Welcome to the November 28, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Integrity of Internet Is Crux of Global Conference
New York Times (11/27/12) Eric Pfanner
At the recent World Conference on International Telecommunications, representatives from more than 190 governments, telecommunications companies, and Internet groups met to update a global treaty on technical standards and discuss political and commercial control of the Internet. "This is a very important moment in the history of the Internet, because this conference may introduce practices that are inimical to its continued growth and openness," says Google vice president and ACM president Vinton G. Cerf. Although critics fear the meeting could be a precursor to the United Nations trying to take over control of the Internet, analysts say the conference's only goal is to discuss business. "The far bigger issue--largely obscured by this discussion--are proposals that are more likely to succeed that envision changing the way we pay for Internet services," says University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist. For example, the European Telecommunications Network Operator's Association proposed that network operators be permitted to assess charges for content providers that use a lot of bandwidth. However, in the U.S., most telecommunications companies have been allowed to maintain local monopolies in broadband, keeping prices higher. Analysts say this could explain why U.S. telecommunications companies have not joined the European call for a new business model.
Women Band Together, Make Inroads Into Tech
USA Today (11/27/12) Jon Swartz
Despite inroads into certain executive positions in Silicon Valley, the computer science field remains dominated by men. The U.S. National Science Foundation says the number of women graduating with computer science degrees has fallen from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2010. The field's slow growth, especially for women, can be linked to education. Of the 42,000 U.S. high schools, only 2,100 are certified to teach Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses, and just 21,139 students took the AP exam. However, grass-roots programs such as CodeEd.org and CodeHS.com are targeting young students for computer science education. "We've got to get kids interested in math (in grade school), and think about how we teach math to girls," says Amazon vice president Dorothy Nicholls. There also are several growth areas within the tech industry for women that do not require computer science degrees, such as project managers, business analysts, and Web developers, notes Atrium Technology recruiting director Matthew Caruso. Others say the most direct path to a career in engineering may start at home. "The earlier you get in, the more confidence and experience you have in [college and the job market]," says Facebook software engineer Sophia Chung.
Cambridge to Study Technology's Risk to Humans
Associated Press (11/25/12) Sylvia Hui
The potential risks that super intelligent technologies pose to humans will be the focus of the proposed Center for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University. The center will bring together philosophers and scientists to study the idea that in this or the next century machines with artificial intelligence could pursue their own interests. "It tends to be regarded as a flaky concern, but given that we don't know how serious the risks are, that we don't know the time scale, dismissing the concerns is dangerous," says Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price. "What we're trying to do is to push it forward in the respectable scientific community." Price says the precise nature of the risks is hard to forecast, but advanced technology could be a threat when computers start to channel resources toward their own goals at the expense of human concerns such as environmental sustainability. Price is co-founding the project with Martin Rees, a professor of cosmology and astrophysics, and Jann Tallinn, one of the founders of the Internet phone service Skype. Cambridge plans to launch the center next year.
Scientists Analyze Millions of News Articles
University of Bristol News (11/26/12)
Researchers at the University of Bristol's Intelligent Systems Laboratory and Cardiff University's School of Journalism used artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze 2.5 million articles from 498 English-language online news outlets over a 10-month period. The researchers found that online tabloid newspapers are more readable than broadsheets and use more sentimental language. The study also found that the online news outlets targeted men more than women. The ranking of topics based on the gender bias of the articles found that "sport" and "financial" articles were the most biased toward men, while "fashion" and "arts" articles were the least biased. The researchers also found that the most appealing topics to online readers were "disasters," "crime," and "environment," while the least appealing topics were "fashion," "markets," and "prices." "The automation of many tasks in news content analysis will not replace the human judgment needed for fine-grained, qualitative forms of analysis, but it allows researchers to focus their attention on a scale far beyond the sample sizes of traditional forms of content analysis," says Bristol professor Nello Cristianini.
Time for a High-Tech Version of the National Guard
Wall Street Journal (11/27/12) Ron Wyden; Andrew Rasiej
Just as the National Guard can be called upon to provide emergency relief, there are thousands of technology professionals who are willing and able to volunteer their skills to rebuild crucial technology infrastructure in emergencies, write U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and NY Tech Meetup chairman Andrew Rasiej. However, they say the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has been reluctant to accept the assistance of private sector outsiders who do not have credentials and have not been vetted or trained to work with them. Former Senator George Allen proposed legislation to establish the National Emergency Technology Guard (NET Guard), which would create a citizen corps of professional technologists, similar to the National Guard. Although the proposal was incorporated into the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the statute's authority has never been used. Historically, private volunteers have helped recovery efforts following hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and forest fires, but they could be more effective if they were allowed to work directly with government agencies. NET Guard teams could work with federal, state, and local officials on emergency communication plans that could be launched even before a major storm hits, or immediately after an unexpected disaster.
How Google Plans to Find the UnGoogleable
Technology Review (11/27/12) Tom Simonite
Google's stated mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible. However, to achieve this goal the company needs to utilize experience sampling, says Google lead user experience designer Jon Wiley. "Doing that on a mobile device is a relatively new technology, and it's getting us better information that we really haven't had in the past," Wiley says. He notes that contextual information obtained from mobile devices can provide clues about users and their situation, which enables Google to guess what users want. "We've often said the perfect search engine will provide you with exactly what you need to know at exactly the right moment, potentially without you having to ask for it," Wiley says. For example, Google Now combines location data with real-time feeds from U.S. public transit authorities and weather services, which lets users walk up to a bus stop and pull out their phone to find arrival times already supplied. University of Texas at Austin researcher Jonas Michel says Google's efforts could lead to a new type of search. "In the future you might want to search very new information from the physical environment," Michel says. "Your information needs are very localized to that place and event and moment."
Putting More Cores to Work in Server Farms
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (11/26/12) Sarah Perrin
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) researchers, working in the EcoCloud research center, have found that reorganizing the inner architecture of the processors used in massive data processing centers can result in significant energy savings. Massive data installations, such as social networks, online games and services, and databases are responsible for 2 percent of the total world energy consumption, according to industry estimates. By integrating the same kind of processor cores that are used in smartphones, the amount of energy needed can be reduced by a factor of four, according to the EPFL researchers. The technique, known as scale-out processors, involves a reorganization and redesign of the processors used in the servers. Instead of the current design based on a few, very powerful processor cores, the new approach would use a greater number of less powerful cores, enabling each processor to respond to a larger number of requests. Concentrated in significant numbers in a large chip, the cores would deliver a better solution to the way servers are currently used. "Current servers are ... actually way too powerful for most basic demands," says the Parallel Systems Architecture Laboratory's Boris Grot. "As a result, they're not being used in an optimal manner."
Improving 3D Image Capture in Real Time
Basque Research (11/26/12)
Public University of Navarre researchers have developed a technique that improves the real-time processing of 3D images. The researchers say the technique is based on stereoscopy, which uses two or more cameras to simultaneously pick up the same scene from different positions, similar to what human eyes do. "The algorithm proposed yields better results than other previous ones in the same class and, what is more, presents a very interesting competitive advantage: It can be implemented in real time using a standard graphics card," says Navarre researcher Leonardo de Maetzu-Reinares. "Although they are algorithms that require a great calculating capacity, if the whole potential of current graphics processors is used, it is possible to execute in real time ... to process as many images per second as those caught by the corresponding camera." The researchers say the technique could be applied to fields such as 3D video recording, monitoring the environment in autonomous vehicles, or intelligent systems for operating theaters.
Software Could Enhance the Accuracy of Keyhole Surgery
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (11/26/12) Stephen Harris
University College London (UCL) researchers have developed software that adds a virtual map of a patient's body to the doctor's video feed, which could make keyhole surgery much easier. The software is a form of augmented reality for robotic-assisted laparoscopic surgery, in which 3D video images from inside the body are overlaid with data collected from magnetic resonance imagery or a computed tomography scan. "You can see structures inside the organs and in that way you may be able to direct the surgery more accurately, for example excise a tumor with better margins or protect a blood vessel or nerve from accidental damage," says UCL's Danail Stoyanov. The program is based on existing research into algorithms that can calculate the geometric coordinates and movement of the contents of images captured with 3D stereoscopic cameras. "We have developed matching strategies to correspond structures between images so that 3D triangulation is possible with laparoscopic cameras," Stoyanov says. The system is being designed to work with existing robotic surgery hardware, but it still needs a user interface that shows how much uncertainty there is about the information being displayed.
Engineers Pave the Way Towards 3D Printing of Personal Electronics
University of Warwick (11/22/12) Anna Blackaby
University of Warwick researchers say they have developed a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices using 3D printers. The material, known as carbomorph, allows users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structure, enabling the printer to create touch-sensitive areas that can be connected to a simple electronic circuit board. The researchers already have used the material to print objects with embedded flex sensors and touch-sensitive buttons. "In the long term, this technology could revolutionize the way we produce the world around us, making products such as personal electronics a lot more individualized and unique and in the process reducing electronic waste," says Warwick researcher Simon Leigh. The printed sensors can be monitored using existing open source electronics and freely available programing libraries. Leigh notes their method is advantageous because the sockets for connection to equipment such as interface electronics can be printed out instead of connected using conductive glues or paints.
Microsoft Files Patent for Augmented Reality Smart Glasses
BBC News (11/23/12)
Microsoft has applied for a patent for augmented reality glasses that would overlay information on top of a user's view of the world. The patent describes how the digital glasses could bring up statistics over a wearer's view of a baseball game. The wearer would not need to turn away from the action to look at screens for information in the arena. The eyewear also would make it possible to see effects otherwise reserved for TV viewers. "We think smart glasses and other head-worn displays will be the next major form-factor for computing with adoption by consumers beginning around late-2014 to 2017," says Juniper Research analyst Nitin Bhas. "The devices will help integrate technology into human life, making things like augmented reality more seamless than it is on smartphones at present." Microsoft's patent suggests that varying the transparency of the glasses' lens would be key to making the smart glasses work. A computing device worn on the wrist could be used to control the eyewear, or users might control it through voice commands and flicking their eyes to a certain spot. Remote computer servers would likely handle most of the processing work to keep the equipment slimline.
Spanish Scientists Design a Revolutionary Data Storage Device
University of Granada (Spain) (11/22/12)
University of Grenada researchers have developed Advanced Random Access Memory (A-RAM), data storage technology that they say can solve the miniaturization challenges in DRAM cells, which is the type of memory used in most digital devices. The CEA-LETI lab in Grenoble, France, has designed a device that experimentally confirms the results the researchers previously obtained in theoretical studies. The Grenada researchers now are investigating alternative three-dimensional A2RAM-based memories such as FinFET-ARAM and Trigate-ARAM. "Currently, we can find DRAM cells smaller than 20 nm and DRAM memory chips of several gigabytes," says Grenada researcher Francisco Gamiz. "However, the possibilities of making these cells smaller are becoming exhausted due to the minimum charge needed to clearly distinguish between the two estates of a bit." Gamiz notes that "if we cannot further reduce the size of the capacitor, the solution is to replace it with 1T-DRAM memory cells—or one-transistor memories—that store information directly in the transistor, which simultaneously detects the state of the cells and gives access to the information stored."
Georgia Tech Releases Cyber Threats Forecast for 2013
Georgia Tech News (11/15/12) Liz Klipp; Jason Maderer
Georgia Tech's newly released Georgia Tech Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2013 predicts that "the continued movement of business and consumer data onto mobile devices and into the cloud will lure cybercriminals into attacking these relatively secure, but extremely tempting platforms," says Georgia Tech Information Security Center director Wenke Lee. Georgia Tech also expects to see attacks targeting vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain and healthcare industry. Specific threats outlined in the report include the increasing use of traditional software development techniques in new malware. The report argues that malware developers will begin attempting to harden their malicious code using techniques similar to digital rights management, while broadening the appeal of their products by offering improved user interfaces and mobile functionality. The report also warns of the possible use of cloud computing services to set up virtual botnets and the expansion of search-engine poisoning techniques that target a user's specific search history. On the mobile front, the report sees browser-based attacks and attempts to subvert digital wallet apps as leading threats going into 2013.
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