Welcome to the September 7, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
EdX Offers Proctored Exams for Open Online Course
Chronicle of Higher Education (09/06/12) Marc Parry
A free open online course offered through edX now provides an option for students to have a proctored final exam to validate their learning. The nonprofit venture will allow students to take online exams supervised by the Pearson VUE service, with passing students receiving certificates of proctored exam completion. EdX president Anant Agarwal says the proctoring option would significantly add to the value of the certificates. "[Employers and institutions] certainly feel much more comfortable with proctored certificates, because these really reflect the students' own work," he notes. This development comes as the debate over academic integrity in the offering of massive open online courses heats up. Harvard, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will offer seven courses through edX in the fall. The proctored testing option will be provided for one course.
Social Networks Make Anonymous Online Communication More Secure
Technology Review (09/04/12)
The online anonymity network Tor conceals its users' identities by encrypting communications and routing them at random through a set of servers. Although Tor protects the location and identity of both the sender and receiver, volunteers running free client software maintain its network nodes. Each node periodically downloads a list of all other nodes so that it can route information accordingly, which makes the system vulnerable to certain kinds of attacks. To counter this potential vulnerability, University of California, Berkeley researchers developed Pises, a protocol that can significantly reduce the chances of these attacks happening. The researchers say the best way to route data is along a random walk through a social network because ordinary people are unlikely to have strong relationships with malicious attackers. The Berkeley protocol is designed so that neighboring nodes must reciprocate links, which tends to force malicious nodes to only connect to each other. In addition, since malicious nodes must have lots of links to other malicious nodes, the protocol is biased against neighbors with lots of links. "The overall anonymity provided by our system significantly outperforms existing approaches," the researchers say.
A U.S.-Israel Collaboration in Computer Science
CCC Blog (08/30/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The U.S. National Science Foundation and the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation recently announced the U.S.-Israel Collaboration in Computer Science (USICCS), which aims to support collaborative research projects that lead to new knowledge in foundational areas of computer science. The USICCS program supports transformative research projects that advance the design and analysis of algorithms. The main goal is to understand the fundamental limits of resource-bounded computation and to find efficient solutions within those limits. USICCS also supports research on the design and analysis of new algorithms in parallel and distributed models. The program seeks new techniques for the design and analysis of algorithms in areas such as cryptography, computational geometry, computational biology, game theory, and numerical, symbolic, and algebraic computing. In addition, USICCS supports research projects on the science of design, verification, operation, utilization, and evaluation of computer systems using new approaches, robust theories, high-leverage tools, and lasting principles. The USICCS program wants transformative ideas that reformulate the relationship between requirements, design, and evolution of software and software-intensive systems.
Estonia Reprograms First Graders as Web Coders
Wired News (09/04/12) Klint Finley
Estonian public schools recently launched a program to develop a curriculum for teaching Web and mobile application development to students as early as first grade. The program begins with training for primary school teachers, to be followed by pilot programs, and eventually the curriculum will be available to all public school students from grades one through 12. The program was created because of the difficulty Estonian companies face in hiring programmers. Meanwhile, the Mozilla Foundation has been sponsoring events dedicated to teaching Web development to youth called Summer Code Party and Hack Jams. Mozilla also has developed Hackasaurus, a collection of tools that help kids learn how Web sites are composed and designed. Mozilla executive director Mark Surman says children start choosing whether to be content makers or just consumers around eight to 10 years of age. "If we want kids to be makers rather than consumers [our goal], this is a critical age," Surman notes. Such efforts are part of a larger movement to improve code literacy among youngsters.
Mapping Neurological Disease
MIT News (09/05/12) Helen Knight
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed an algorithm that can analyze information from medical images to identify diseased areas of the brain and their connections with other regions. "It’s quite hard for a person looking at all of that data to integrate it into a model of what is going on, because we’re not good at processing lots of numbers," says MIT professor Polina Golland. The algorithm first compares the data from the brain scans of healthy people with those of patients with a particular disease, in order to identify differences in the connections between the two groups that indicate disruptions caused by the disorder. The algorithm then analyzes the network of connections to create a map of the areas of the brain most affected by the disease. "Our methods extract from the data this set of regions that can explain the disruption of connectivity that we see," Golland says. The algorithm hypothesizes what disruptions in signaling it would expect to see if a certain region were affected. "It basically finds the subset of regions that best explains the observed changes in connectivity between the normal control scan and the patient scan," Golland says.
AI Cyber-Fighter: Does It Feel Human, Punk?
New Scientist (09/06/12) Celeste Biever
Imperial College London researcher Zafeirios Fountas has developed Neurobot, a video-game character designed for the game Unreal Tournament, which is completely controlled by a biologically inspired model of consciousness. Fountas plans to enter Neurobot in the BotPrize contest, a video-game alternative to the Turing test. In the BotPrize contest, multiple humans and bots play Unreal Tournament at the same time. At the end of the match, the human players judge the "humanness" of their opponents. BotPrize aims to foster software capable of navigating physical space in a human-like way. Fountas says Neurobot's performance will indicate whether the global workspace theory of consciousness can produce human-like behaviors. Neurobot simulates 20,000 individual neurons and the electrical currents that flow between them, resulting in 1.5 million connections. Neurobot's simulated neurons are divided into different populations, each responsible for controlling and reacting to different stimuli. Meanwhile, there are other actions that do not require Neurobot's attention. Fountas says the combination of conscious and unconscious processes will help make Neurobot's behavior seem human. "I have no idea why he chooses to shoot when he does," he says. "The decision is completely his."
Algorithms and Facial Thermal Imaging Could Identify Drunks
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (09/04/12)
Researchers at the University of Patras have devised two algorithms that can determine whether someone has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol based on infrared thermal imaging of the person's face. Georgia Koukiou and Vassilis Anastassopoulos from Patras' Electronics Laboratory are developing software that would provide law enforcement and other authorities with "definitive evidence of inebriation." The system measures pixel values of specific points on the person's face, then compare them with values in a database of scans of sober and inebriated people. Alcohol causes dilation of blood vessels in the surface of the skin, enabling hot spots on the face to be seen in the thermal-imaging scans and classification as drunk or sober regions. The system also uses an algorithm to understand what different parts of the face are present in the thermal image so that the thermal differences between various locations on the face can be accessed and given an overall score. The researchers note their approach offers a way to quickly scan people entering public spaces or attempting to buy more alcohol.
Bridging the STEM Gap With Girl Scouts
Marshfield News Herald (WI) (09/05/12) Jess Radke
The Girl Scout Research Institute recently found that girls' future career choices are more influenced by inspiring role models than by academic interests. This finding has prompted the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes (GSNWGL) to emphasize fun and engaging science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. GSNWGL and other councils also have launched an advocacy initiative to raise awareness about girls' participation in STEM with officials and community leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. High school girls and boys perform equally well in math and science, yet only 20 percent of young women plan to major in a STEM subject, compared to 50 percent of young men, according to the American Association of University Women. Girl Scouts reaches 2.4 million U.S. girls, making the organization uniquely positioned to address gender equity in STEM education and enrichment.
Cutting-Edge Technology to Empower People With Speech Impairments and Limited Mobility
University of Aberdeen (09/04/12) Jennifer Phillips
University of Aberdeen researchers have developed software that enables people with impaired speech and mobility to assign simple gestures to actions they would like to be performed in their home. Wireless communication technologies are used to link the software to devices in the home. "For some people hand gestures are the only way of interacting with the environment around them because of speech impairments and reduced mobility, as a result of illness or an accident," says Aberdeen lecturer Ernesto Compatangelo. The technology is based on the Portable Sign Language Translator (PSLT), which helps users translate sign language into text. "In devising the PSLT, we wanted to create software that enables independent living not only by addressing the individualized communication needs of signers, but also their ambient control needs," Compatangelo says. People using PSLT sign into a standard camera integrated into a laptop, netbook, smartphone, or other portable device. Their signs are immediately converted into text, which can be read by the person they are conversing with. "Essentially any gesture can be assigned to any given word," Compatangelo notes.
New App Will Help Make Sign Language Communication More Accessible
Bristol University (09/04/12)
Hearing and deaf sign language users should be able to communicate more effectively using an app designed by researchers at the University of Bristol. MobileSign offers a searchable database of more than 4,000 signs. The British Sign Language lexicon app uses a predictive word search, and automatically shows lists of possible words for the user to choose from. Once the user selects the word, a video of a person signing the word appears on-screen. MobileSign enables the user to keep a list of their recently viewed signs for later access. Experts from Bristol's Center for Deaf Studies have designed the app to be viewed online or stored on a mobile device. MobileSign is available for free, and can be used on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. The researchers say the tool offers the largest free sign language lexicon available from the App Store or Google Play. "We believe that just because you can charge for content does not mean that you automatically should; it is our wish to see British Sign Language use grow through free sign language learning resources such as MobileSign," says Bristol's Christopher John.
Stop Computer Prodigies Before They Hack
NextGov.com (09/05/12) Aliya Sternstein
Some U.S. government programs aim to teach kids the wrongness of hacking so they will be less likely to use their computing skills malevolently. For example, the Air Force Association's CyberPatriot contest for high school students teaches cyberethics and cybercitizenship as a first subject, says CyberPatriot commissioner Bernie Skoch. He says the goal of the competition is to "strongly discourage" malicious activity by "explaining the legal consequences, the career consequences of someone in their adolescence doing the wrong thing." Skoch says "we want to reach them very young so that when they confront a potential dilemma it's not a dilemma at all." Skills taught to young people include configuring network links to remain closed when not in use so hackers cannot access files. Meanwhile, many universities and nonprofits have hosted school and professional contests that attempt to teach ethical hacking. Cyber Challenge officials note the contest also provides students with legal information so that they will use their skills in an appropriate manner.
Turn Your Dreams Into Music
University of Helsinki (09/06/2012)
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have developed software that automatically composes music based on the analysis of data from a sleeping person. The project uses a sensitive force sensor placed under a mattress that measures movement, heart rate, and breathing to deduce the stages of sleep, and the software compresses a night's sleep into a couple of minutes, says composition program creator Aurora Tulilaulu. "Heartbeats and respiratory rhythm are extracted from the sensor's measurement signal, and the stages of sleep are deducted from them," notes Helsinki postgraduate student Joonas Paalasmaa, who designed the sleep stage software. "We are developing a novel way of illustrating, or in fact experiencing, data," says Helsinki professor Hannu Toivonen. "Music can, for example, arouse a variety of feelings to describe the properties of the data." Toivonen says sleep analysis is a natural first application. The team will present its research at the International Symposium on Intelligent Data Analysis in Helsinki in October 2012.
New Record in Quantum Communications
Australian National University (08/30/12)
Australian National University (ANU) researchers have made it possible for quantum information to travel at higher bandwidth using a beam of light and the phenomenon called entanglement. ANU researcher Seiji Armstrong and colleagues say they have simplified the process for performing entanglement experiments. Such research was becoming too complicated, considering each entangled mode of light required its own laser beam, as well as a whole range of other equipment, and quantum computing would need hundreds or thousands of entangled states of light. "We were able to entangle eight quantum modes of light within one laser beam, a practice that used to require eight separate beams," Armstrong says. Four modes of light in one laser was the previous best entanglement. "Our research shows that it is now possible to create a high bandwidth light beam with relatively a lot of quantum information on it," Armstrong notes. The research could allow for the development of next-generation, super-fast networks for future computing.
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