Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 15, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Moore's Law: The Rule That Really Matters in Tech
CNet (10/15/12) Stephen Shankland

Moore's Law has sustained its momentum despite worries of it hitting its physical limits, thanks to materials scientists' progress in getting more computing power out of silicon transistor technology even as they explore alternative materials. "The truth is we've been modifying the technology every five or seven years for 40 years, and there's no end in sight for being able to do that," says Intel's Mike Mayberry. Still, sooner or later the law will reach physical constraints, and Intel has been staving off this inevitability by shrinking its microprocessor circuitry elements to 22-nm scale. Next year Intel plans a reduction to a 14-nm process, to eventually reach 5-nm by 2019. Although Moore's Law may ultimately end if transistors cannot be miniaturized beyond a certain point, alternatives to silicon such as indium arsenide, gallium arsenide, gallium nitride, or other III-V materials may come into their own to keep computing power increasing. One of the most promising post-silicon materials is graphene, which, unlike carbon nanotubes, can be fabricated directly as a step in the wafer processing that goes on in chip plants. Future chips could alternatively use silicon photonics, which carry information via light rather than electrons.


Voter Registration Rolls in 2 States Are Called Vulnerable to Hackers
New York Times (10/13/12) Nicole Perlroth

Computer security experts are concerned that hackers could disenfranchise voters in Maryland and Washington state by exploiting weaknesses in the states' voter registration databases. The vulnerabilities stem from the public availability of the information voters need to log into the systems, and critics say the most pressing challenge is the possibility that large numbers of voters from one political party or demographic could have their information changed by automated computer programs. State officials say they have contingencies for such threats, with Maryland officials saying they consult with their own security experts to spot atypical patterns in online traffic. Washington officials cite the use of Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTHCA) puzzles to winnow out humans from computer programs, but security experts argue that such safeguards cannot fend off determined hackers. They say hackers could employ botnets to change voters' addresses, while CAPTCHAs can be beaten either by new machine-learning technologies or by persons paid to type them in. Last week several experts sent a letter to Maryland and Washington election officials recommending that voters be authenticated with nonpublic information such as the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.


New Progamming Language Makes Social Coding Easier
Technology Review (10/15/12) Rachel Metz

The open source Dog programming language from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers could make it easier and more intuitive to code social apps, as well as enable novices to learn coding with less difficulty through its use of natural language. MIT Media Lab professor Sep Kamvar says Dog came out of the desire "to start writing a programming language that allowed me to write at the same level of abstraction that I think." Kamvar says Dog addresses challenges, such as easing the identification of people by making them a basic data type that the language can recognize, and then creates a simple syntax around such concepts that employs natural language and is concentrated on a small set of clear commands. Kamvar notes users also can import functions from other programming languages, enabling interaction design and social processes to be written in Dog while other functions can be written in another language. Kamvar and colleagues have been devising the Dog compiler and writing demo programs in Dog to test it out. Among the programs is a peer-to-peer teaching-and-learning platform called Karma. Dog is a server-side language, but the group that created it also is developing a client-side version.


Making Crowdsourcing More Reliable
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (10/12/12)

One of the major obstacles in crowdsourcing information gathering is the reliability of collected reports, but researchers at the University of Southampton and the University of California, San Diego say they have developed methods for solving this problem. The researchers' methods involve crowdsourcing verification as well as information gathering. "The success of an information-gathering task relies on the ability to identify trustworthy information reports, while false reports are bound to appear either due to honest mistakes or sabotage attempts," says Southampton researcher Victor Naroditskiy. "This information verification problem is a difficult task, which, just like the information-gathering task, requires the involvement of a large number of people." The researchers have developed methods for combining incentives to recruit participants to verify information, according to Madsar Institute professor Iyad Rahwan. The methods involve compensations to the recruiter and to the reporting participant for submitting the correct report, as well as penalties for incorrect reports, which ensures the recruiter will perform verification.


UC Mentors Next Generation of Women in STEM Fields
UC Newsroom (10/11/12) Erin Greenfield

Connecting students striving for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees with leading women in industry and academia is the purpose of Women in Technology Sharing Online (WitsOn) a national online mentoring program involving the participation of students and faculty from eight University of California (UC) campuses. Every week during the program, lead and supporting mentors guide discussions on common themes, such as finding employment and maintaining a work and life balance, affecting women in STEM fields. "I want to get a firsthand, honest opinion of what I should be doing to prepare and learn what paths these women chose to get to where they are," says WitsOn participant and UC Santa Cruz student Monique Windju. Recent figures from the National Science Board show that women earned about half of all STEM bachelor's degrees in 2009, while men continued to overtake women in earning bachelor's degrees in engineering, computer science, mathematics, and physics. Experts say a lack of high-profile role models and a dearth of self-confidence are factors contributing to women's under-representation in STEM disciplines, and online programs such as WitsOn offer an outlet for classroom pressures and mentor opportunities that are not restricted by physical constraints.


Predictive Text Errors Inspire AI Comedians
New Scientist (10/11/12) Paul Marks

Finnish researchers are working to automate the autocorrect humor in the text-prediction systems of phones, search engines, and word processors. They believe inadvertent humor could improve human interactions with technology. The University of Helsinki's Alessandro Valitutti is leading the development of a program that would change words only occasionally, interjecting at random intervals, and would derive comical terms by using dictionaries of related words on subjects that are favorite comedy staples, such as religion and sex. Valitutti believes the software could inject humor into reminder systems. "By understanding what makes these accidental slip-ups so funny, we open up avenues for our software to entertain us on a daily basis," says Imperial College London's Mike Cook. "That's exactly the kind of thing I'd love this research to unlock--more ways to make us laugh, and a new way for [artificial intelligence] to improve our day-to-day life." The researchers also are combining the software with a speech-recognition system.
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A Tactile Glove Provides Subtle Guidance to Objects in the Vicinity
University of Helsinki (10/10/2012) Minna Merilainen-Tenhu

A tactile glove makes use of computer vision-based hand tracking to guide the user's hand toward a predetermined target in three-dimensional space. The prototype built by researchers from the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT) and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics is a glove constructed with inexpensive off-the-shelf components, such as four vibrotactile actuators and a Microsoft Kinect sensor to track the user's hand, and uses a dynamic guidance algorithm that calculates effective actuation patterns based on distance and direction to the target. "The advantage of steering a hand with tactile cues is that the user can easily interpret them in relation to the current field of view where the visual search is operating," says HIIT's Ville Lehtinen. "This provides a very intuitive experience, like the hand being 'pulled' toward the target." In a controlled experiment, users wearing the glove performed visual search tasks up to three times faster than other participants. The researchers say the glove could be helpful in daily visual search tasks in warehouses, supermarkets, parking lots, and libraries. They presented their research at the recent 25th ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Boston.


Bourne Pursuit: Improving Computer Tracking of Human Activity
University of Michigan News Service (10/10/12) Jared Wadley

University of Michigan researchers have developed a method for improving a computer's human-tracking accuracy by more than 30 percent by examining where the targets are going and what they are doing. "Our method reduces the computational complexity and makes it possible to solve the problem of inferring what a person will do based on their activities as an individual, their interactions with other individuals, and their behavior in larger groups," says Michigan professor Silvio Savarese. He says individual motions provide information about specific interactions, and those interactions can predict a person's future behavior. The researchers taught the software to recognize interactions such as people walking together, standing in a line, or crossing the street. To build the program's knowledge base, the researchers feed it example videos with labeled targets and behaviors, which enabled program to recognize patterns based on the previous experience. Savarese says the researchers will continue to work to accelerate the process, and notes that a simplified version of the tracking software is approaching real-time operation.


Researchers Unravel the Secret to Making Cheap, High-Density Data Storage
A*STAR Research (10/10/12) Eugene Low

Researchers at A*STAR's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) and the National University of Singapore have discovered that an ultra-smooth surface is the key factor for self-assembly, which could be the basis for an inexpensive, high-volume, high-density patterning technique that enables manufacturers to develop the next generation of data storage devices. The researchers say the self-assembly technique is one of the simplest and least expensive high-volume methods for creating uniform, densely packed nanostructures that could potentially help store data. However, they have struggled to employ self-assembly on different surface types. The researchers solved this problem and identified that the smoother the surface, the more efficient the self-assembly nanostructures will be. The breakthrough enables the method to be used on more surfaces and reduces the number of defects in an industrial setting. Denser packing of structures in a single area will enable more data to be stored. "If we want large scale, large area nanopatterning using very affordable self-assembly, the surface needs to be extremely smooth so that we can achieve efficient, successful self-assembly and with lower incidences of defects," says IMRE's MSM Saifullah.


New Interactive System Detects Touch and Gestures on Any Surface
Purdue University News (10/09/12) Emil Venere

Purdue University researchers have developed an extended multitouch system that enables more than one person to simultaneously use a computing surface. The system can project computer images onto walls and other surfaces and allows users to interact with their environment and each other. The system also can identify the fingers of a user's hand while touching any plain surface, as well as hand positions and gestures. The researchers found that the system is 98 percent accurate in determining hand posture. "You could use it for living environments, to turn appliances on, in a design studio to work on a concept, or in a laboratory, where a student and instructor interact," says Purdue professor Karthik Ramani. The system relies on the Microsoft Kinect camera to sense three-dimensional space. "The camera sees where your hands are, which fingers you are pressing on the surface, tracks hand gestures, and recognizes whether there is more than one person working at the same time," Ramani says. The camera and hand model enables the system to locate the center of each hand, which is required for determining gestures and distinguishing between left and right hands.


On Track for Terabyte Discs: Making Computer Data Storage Cheaper, Easier
Case Western Reserve University (10/09/12)

Case Western Reserve University researchers have developed technology that could lead to the creation of optical discs that hold up to two terabytes of data. The researchers say the discs would provide small and medium-sized businesses with an alternative to storing data on energy-wasting magnetic disks or large magnetic tapes. The technique uses data storage technology similar to Blu-ray, but instead of packing more data on the surface, the data is written in dozens of layers. The method is based on optical film with 64 data layers, technology that was fist developed by the Case Western Reserve's Center for Layered Polymeric Systems. The researchers then cut and pasted the film onto the same hard plastic base DVDs and Blu-ray disks use. The researchers want to provide an affordable option to computer centers that now regularly purge data due to the prohibitive costs of current storage technologies. "A disc will be on the capacity scale of magnetic tapes used for archival data storage," says Case Western Reserve professor Kenneth Singer. "But, they'll be substantially cheaper and have one advantage: You can access data faster. You just pop the disc in your computer and you can find the data in seconds."


Researchers Develop New Way to Determine Amount of Charge Remaining in Battery
NCSU News (10/08/12) Matt Shipman

North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed a technique that enables drivers of electric vehicles to determine the amount of charge remaining in their battery in real time. The researchers created software that identifies and processes data that can be used to update computer models estimating the remaining charge. The software enables the computer model to estimate the amount of charge the battery has left within 5 percent. "This improved accuracy will also give us additional insight into the dynamics of the battery, which we can use to develop techniques that will lead to more efficient battery management," says NCSU professor Mo-Yuen Chow. "This will not only extend the life of the charge in the battery, but extend the functional life of the battery itself." The team notes the technique has potential uses beyond batteries in plug-in electric vehicles.


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