Welcome to the January 13, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
Please note: In observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, Jan. 16. Publication will resume on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
New Storage Device Is Very Small, at 12 Atoms
New York Times (01/12/12) John Markoff
IBM researchers have devised a method for magnetically storing data on arrays composed of just a few atoms in a breakthrough that could lead to a new class of nanomaterials for more power-efficient devices, and perhaps open up new avenues in quantum computing research. The researchers stored data on a 12-atom structure, whereas the most advanced magnetic storage systems have up to now required roughly 1 million atoms to store a single bit. The storage was effected by configuring two rows of six iron atoms on a surface of copper nitride atoms, using a scanning tunneling microscope. The antiferromagnetic properties of the atomic cluster make such closeness possible. The array was constructed at a temperature near absolute zero, but the researchers say the same experiment could be performed at room temperature with no more than 150 atoms. They also note that smaller atom groups start to exhibit quantum mechanical behavior, and could theoretically be arranged into Qbits. Antiferromagnetic materials are currently used to make recording heads employed in today's hard disk drives and in the new spin-transfer-torque RAM memory chip. IBM researcher Andreas Heinrich says the design of novel materials using self-assembly techniques is a focus of many research groups.
Cyber Defense Effort Is Mixed, Study Finds
Washington Post (01/13/12) Ellen Nakashima
A Pentagon pilot program that shields the computer networks of defense contractors using classified U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) data succeeded in some respects and came up short in others, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study. The initiative demonstrated that Internet carriers were trustworthy in their handling of the NSA data, that direct monitoring of private networks by the government could be unnecessary, and that the measures could be especially advantageous to firms whose cyberdefense capabilities are at a less mature level. The Defense Industrial Base cyber pilot enlisted Internet carriers to sift through companies' incoming email for malware using classified NSA malware signatures for the purpose of testing two strategies--quarantining malevolent emails and redirecting outbound traffic headed for suspicious Web sites. Although the first approach was rated as effective, the second yielded large numbers of false positives reported by participating companies. The researchers recommend that the pilot be expanded to a wider, more variegated array of defense firms, and that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assume a greater participatory role. The study's results prompted the Obama Administration to continue the program and make DHS overseer of the relationship with the Internet carriers.
'Smart' TVs and Other Products Proliferate at CES
USA Today (01/12/12) Edward C. Baig
Smart technology is the overriding theme at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vega. Smart TVs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, cameras, and fitness devices all highlight the latest technology. Smart TVs and other smart devices are increasingly relying on more natural user interfaces, such as touch, gestures, and voice. Apple deserves some of the credit for driving the smart revolution, notes product developer Tom Campbell, as does Microsoft for its Kinect gesture and voice controller for video games. Both Samsung and LG recently announced voice- and gesture-control features for new TVs. Samsung also is adding facial-recognition technology to identify which user is watching. Campbell says people see TV as "more and more of an information center. You want to be able to use it in the same way that you use your tablet, or your iPhone or Android phone." Meanwhile, smart appliances can monitor energy use and send alerts to a user's smartphone. Whirlpool recently demonstrated a washing machine that can notify users when their clothes are ready to be put into the dryer, and LG has developed a smart refrigerator that can cool a can of soda in five minutes and alert users if a carton of milk is sour.
Sandia Cyber Project Looks to Help IT Professionals With Complex Domain Name System (DNS) Vulnerabilities
Sandia National Laboratories (01/11/12) Mike Janes
Sandia National Laboratories researchers have developed DNSViz, a visualization tool designed to help network administrators better understand Domain Name System Security (DNSSEC). In 2008, the White House mandated that all top-level .gov domains be DNSSEC-signed, and processes to enable secure delegated subdomains be dropped. However, DNSSEC is difficult to configure correctly because "it adds a great deal of complexity to [information technology] systems, and if configured improperly or deployed onto servers that aren’t fully compatible, it keeps users from accessing .gov sites," says Sandia's Casey Deccio. DNSViz enables Internet-connected systems within the U.S. government to verify that the responses are authoritative and have not been altered. In addition, DNSViz provides a visual analysis of the DNSSEC authentication chain for a domain name and its resolution path. DNSViz also helps network administrators by actively analyzing a domain name by performing pertinent DNS lookups, and by making the analysis available via the Web interface. Deccio wants to make DNSViz available as an open source tool for anyone to use.
Data Mine This: Government Challenges Scientists
InformationWeek (01/11/12) Elizabeth Montalbano
Data-mining experts from academia as well as public- and private-sector organizations have until Feb. 22 to submit applications for the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST's) 21st annual Text Retrieval Conference (TREC). The conference will focus on advanced search techniques for large, digital data collections, and will feature Contextual Suggestion and Knowledge Base Acceleration as new tracks. Contextual Suggestion will investigate how to search information that is dependent on context and user interests, while Knowledge Base Acceleration will aim to improve the efficiency of people who maintain knowledge bases by having the system itself monitor data streams and suggest modifications or extensions. The Crowdsourcing, Legal, Medical Records, Microblog, Session, and Web task topics will carry over from TREC 2011. The conference is scheduled for November, and participants will be able to begin data-mining document sets related to the eight tracks beginning in March. NIST will release the tracks and data sets to be mined, and scientists will be able to focus on developing algorithms to find information from the data collections.
Officials See Limited Government Role in Internet Governance
National Journal (01/11/12) Josh Smith
The Internet would benefit from a limited role for governments in cyberspace governance, top U.S. officials and analysts recently told an audience at the Brookings Institution. The multi-stakeholder model allows input from everyone, and countries, companies, and other organizations should try to strengthen this approach, says assistant U.S. Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling. "When parties ask us to overturn the outcome of these processes, no matter how well-intentioned the request, they are providing ammunition to other countries who would like to see governments take control of the Internet," Strickling says. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has come under fire for the process used to develop plans for new, expanded domain names, but Strickling says critics should not press for involvement from the U.S. government. Meanwhile, Karen Kornbluh, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), says broad principles could be used to help pressure countries to preserve the Internet as a global platform. Google's Robert Boorstin says OECD's formal recommendations of principles for policymaking in December was a landmark move by governments. A free Internet will likely have more unintended consequences if governments get more involved, notes the Consumer Federation of America's Mark Cooper.
Kiwi's Software Wows Google, NASA
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (01/11/12) Laura Westbrook
New software used worldwide to connect multiple screens to form one big image is the work of a New Zealand student. The University of Waikato's Paul Hunkin developed ClusterGL in 2008 for use with Waikato's display wall as a side project. When Hunkin applied for Google's Summer of Code internship, the company was more interested in ClusterGL and paid him to further develop the software for its own curved display walls called Liquid Galaxy. The display walls consist of several screens in a circular arrangement that run Google Earth in parallel for an immersive virtual experience. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Johnson Space Center also uses the program. "The problem that you have when you want to make a really big wall of screens is that you need to use lots of computers, but computer programs are usually written on one computer, so it's quite difficult to spread them over a multiple of computers," Hunkin says. "My system lets you take any normal program and split it up to run across as many screens as you want."
KAIST's Smart E-book System More Convenient Than Paper-Based Books
KAIST (01/10/12) Lan Yoon
Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed the Smart E-book System, technology designed to make reading easier on smartphones and tablet computers. The system enables smartphone and tablet users to flip through the pages of an e-book or cross-reference its contents by recognizing finger touches made beyond the screen. The technology enables users to flip the pages of an e-book from the startup screen without entering any function key or touching the screen itself. In addition, the system uses three-dimensional rendering to skim through pages of an e-book, and is equipped with a bookmark function. "I hope that our technology will accelerate the wider use of e-books and contribute to Korea's endeavors to lead the development of software application technology for mobile devices," says KAIST professor Howon Lee.
Feel the Roar of the Crowd in Online Gaming
New Scientist (01/10/12) Niall Firth
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Ph.D. student Drew Harry has developed Roar, a type of chatting software designed for role-playing video games. With Roar, users can write messages to fellow gamers, which appear at the bottom left of the screen and are visible to all players. However, users also can group messages by section, which could be by subject matter or region. In addition, users can choose to shout their message instead of just chatting them. A chat goes to everyone in the section, but fades from the screen, while shouts last much longer and can be taken up by other users and spread from section to section, similar to a chant in a stadium. Harry says that the more words there are, the more active the crowd is, which enables the gamers to see when the crowd is going crazy or when everyone is hushed in anticipation.
Scientists Launch World's Most Advanced Crowd Simulation and Evacuation Software
University of Greenwich (01/10/12)
University of Greenwich scientists recently released buildingEXODUS version 5.0, the next generation of their evacuation and crowd simulation software. Version 5.0 enables building engineers to perform more realistic desktop simulations and predict how individual people will interact with each other, including how they can be hindered by hazards such as heat, smoke, and toxic gases. Version 5.0's human behavior submodel includes rules governing the behavior of people affected by smoke in fire situations. It also examines the psychological aspects governing how people select certain escape routes. "BuildingEXODUS version 5.0 provides building engineers with a sophisticated and powerful analysis tool to simulate and analyze crowd movement and evacuation," says Greenwich's Ed Galea. He notes that the buildingEXODUS package has been used by engineering consultancies, architects, research laboratories, regulatory authorities, police forces, fire brigades, and universities in 37 countries. "The arrival of this level of sophistication on the desktop means that building engineers can test more designs in less time, giving them the most accurate, and extensively researched, resources for organizing the evacuation of buildings," Galea says.
AI Use Extends Beyond Scientific Boundaries
ZDNet Asia (01/10/12) Ellyne Phneah
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) currently transcends scientific industries as it offers benefits of reduced operational costs and human risks, in addition to better management of complex data, according to industry researchers. The primary reason for using AI technology is to lower operational costs by replacing the human workforce with AI agents, says the Institute of Infocomm Research's Rafael Banchs. For example, he says that in the oil industry AI technology is used at different stages of the value chain, including during the exploratory analysis. AI is based on managing diverse data and complexity, says the Georgia School of Technology's Henrik Christensen. "Only through the use of AI can we deliver a solution within a specific time limit," he says. Christensen notes that AI already is used by technology companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, as well as consumer companies such as Walmart and Macy's. AI also is used for generating scenarios for education and training in the military, business, and other domains, says Georgia School of Technology professor Mark Riedl.
Carnegie Mellon Will Tap Advanced Computer Methods to Help Doctors Make Sense of Their Patients' DNA
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (01/10/12) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University researchers are developing computational tools that could enable doctors to use information taken from a patient's DNA to diagnose and guide the treatment of diseases. Carnegie Mellon's Robert F. Murphy is leading a multidisciplinary team of scientists from the Baylor College of Medicine and Yale University that aims to develop "doctor in a box" software that can diagnose diseases, identify a patient's susceptibility to disease, and recommend therapies that will be most effective or cause the fewest side effects. The software will be trained to analyze the type of whole-genome sequence data produced by Ion Torrent's sequencing technology. "It's an enormous undertaking, but we are creating a framework that will allow us to tackle this problem one piece at a time and to do so at a scale that makes sense when all of those pieces are put together," Murphy says. He says the project will result in personal genome sequences that can be used to predict disease susceptibility and treatment responsiveness, in addition to choosing preventative therapies.
Google's 'Babel Fish' Heralds Future of Translation
TechCentral (South Africa) (01/09/12) Duncan McLeod
The Google Translate project seeks the enablement of real-time language translation by building "statistical models that are automatically training themselves and learning all the time," says Google Translate researcher Ashish Venugopal. "As people translate new content on the Web, our systems pick this up and it adds the words." Venugopal notes that Google Translate currently supports 63 languages. He says the idea is not to tell the computer how to translate each sentence, but rather feed it general patterns to search for. "When it sees new data, it uses those patterns, matches that to data, and then comes up with a model that it uses to translate sentences," Venugopal says. He concedes that the statistical strategy can lead to scenarios in which the inputted data generates a bizarre translation, and the Google Translate researchers are attempting to limit such situations. Venugopal predicts that machine translation will reach a point where it can effectively address 80 percent of the use cases "in a reasonably short time." However, he cautions that "the last 20 percent will be incredibly hard." Venugopal also notes that real-time voice translation using devices such as mobile phones is already possible, but not on a simultaneous basis.
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