Welcome to the December 5, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Smartphones Might Soon Develop Emotional Intelligence
University of Rochester News (12/04/12) Leonor Sierra
University of Rochester researchers say they have developed software that gauges human feelings through speech, with significantly greater accuracy than conventional approaches. "We actually used recordings of actors reading out the date of the month--it really doesn't matter what they say, it's how they're saying it that we're interested in," says Rochester professor Wendi Heinzelman. The program analyzes 12 features of speech, such as pitch and volume, to identify one of six emotions from a sound recording. During testing, the system achieved 81 percent accuracy. "The research is still in its early days, but it is easy to envision a more complex app that could use this technology for everything from adjusting the colors displayed on your mobile to playing music fitting to how you're feeling after recording your voice," Heinzelman says. The researchers established 12 features in speech that were measured in each recording at short intervals. They then categorized each of the recordings and used them to teach the program what various emotions sound like. "We want to be confident that when the computer thinks the recorded speech reflects a particular emotion, it is very likely it is indeed portraying this emotion," Heinzelman says.
IETF vs. ITU: Internet Standards Face-Off
Network World (12/03/12) Carolyn Duffy Marsan
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are battling over which group will be the primary source of the underlying communications protocols that enable the Internet to operate in the future. The IETF has been the Internet's primary standards body since 1986, while the ITU currently oversees global radio spectrum, satellite orbits, and other carrier-centric technologies. However, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) will include the first major revision of the international treaties that define the ITU's role since 1988. WCIT will make changes to the International Telecommunication Regulations, which facilitate global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunications traffic. The Internet Society, the umbrella organization for IETF and a member of the ITU, is concerned that the ITU will take a harder line on Internet governance. A statement on its Web site warns that decisions made by governments at WCIT could redefine the international regulatory environment for the Internet and telecoms in the 21st century and beyond. The U.S. House of Representatives also recently sent a message to the ITU that the Internet does not need additional regulation. An ITU statement says its "goal is to continue enabling the Internet as it has done since the Internet's inception."
AI Boffins Take on Angry Birds
Register (UK) (12/05/12) Simon Sharwood
The Australian National University's (ANU's) Artificial Intelligence Group is hosting a competition that pits humans against artificial intelligence agents using the popular game Angry Birds. ANU professor Jochen Renz says the game presents some of the problems researchers are facing. "You need to solve computer vision, learning, and diagnosis problems to play the game," Renz says. "Those are some of the different sub-groups of artificial intelligence, so we [from the group] were all able to work together on the problem." Renz thought a competition could help advance research, so his team created an Angry Birds-playing app, called NAIVE, which offers a model of the game and plays it by simulating the mouse drags and clicks that launch the birds. The app is a Chrome extension, the competition takes place within the Chrome Web Store version of the game, and competitors can build on NAIVE or create their own code. The scores of the contestants who successfully complete the 10 custom levels created for the event will be put to test against human combatants. After the best-performing agents are matched against people, Renz will release the source code.
A Computer for Your Car's Windshield
Wall Street Journal (12/03/12) Greg Bensinger
General Motors (GM) and Daimler AG are developing new windshield technology that could provide drivers with information about their surroundings, improving safety and efficiency. The windshields use augmented reality to display driving directions, text messages, or oncoming hazards, all without requiring the driver to look away from the road. "The goal is to reduce head-down time and maybe make driving a more interactive experience," says GM chief technologist for human machine interface Tom Seder. Augmented-reality windshields are likely to have simple graphics enabling drivers to see digital renditions of their surroundings, including difficult-to-see road edges or animals. "It has to be done very judiciously, you don't want to clutter the windshield with too much information and cause it to be a distraction," Seder says. The technology combines sensors outside the vehicle with inside sensors that track the driver's eyes. The windshield also could display facts about a city's landmarks, weather and traffic updates, and social media posts. "If we can link the whole car, including the windshield, to drivers' smartphones you can imagine a future where so much of their world can be brought to them while they are driving," says Daimler CEO Johann Jungwirth.
EU Project Continues to Drive Internet Research
CORDIS News (12/04/12)
The European Union's Network of Excellence in Internet Science (EINS) project aims to develop a concept of the Internet as a societal and technological artifact, in which human input is driving Internet functionalities and applications. The EINS researchers will establish an "Internet science," which will extend beyond its information and communications technology core to bring together perspectives from social and life sciences. The EINS project will focus on privacy and identity, reputation, virtual communities, security and resilience, and network neutrality. The project's researchers note that using the Internet is giving people the means to boost their well-being, to obtain the information they need to form opinions, and even to build friendships. They also are studying whether Internet science can transform online social networking, and which analytic techniques and experimental methods from the social and natural sciences can enhance the traditional components of the Internet. The researchers say they want to establish the future Internet with the technological, economic, social, and environmental views of public and private stakeholders.
Meet Spaun, the Most Complex Simulated Brain Ever
Popular Science (11/29/12) Rebecca Boyle
To better demonstrate how the brain works, University of Waterloo researcher Chris Eliasmith built the Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network (Spaun), a computer model that can recognize numbers, remember them, determine numeric sequences, and write them down with a robotic arm. Eliasmith says it is the first model that can successfully emulate behaviors while also modeling the physiology that underlies them. The program comprises 2.5 million simulated neurons organized into subsystems to mimic specific brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, basil ganglia, and thalamus. Spaun also has a virtual eye and a robotic arm, and can perform a series of tasks that are distinct from one another. Eliasmith notes that Spaun is designed to simulate behavior rather than simply solve a problem in the best possible way. "This model is trying to address that issue of cognitive flexibility," he says. "How do we switch between tasks, how do we use the same components in our head to do all those different tasks?" he says. Eliasmith also notes that Spaun can assist other machines emulate brain function more accurately and more efficiently. "We can try to discover the algorithms being used by biology, and maybe understand the principles behind them, to build better artificial agents."
Work on Automatic Control of Driverless Vehicles Through Intersections Receives Recognition
Virginia Tech News (12/04/12) Ann Craig
Virginia Tech researchers have developed a system that enables driverless vehicles to navigate through intersections faster and safer than human drivers. The autonomous vehicles rely on an automated intersection controller, which enables the vehicles to move at the speed limit, with the controller tweaking their trajectory to prevent collisions, says Virginia Tech researcher Ismail Zohdy, whose research paper recently won the Best Scientific Paper Award for North America at the Intelligent Transportation Society World Congress. "The proposed system considers the vehicles’ location, speed, and acceleration plus the surrounding environment, such as weather and intersection characteristics," Zohdy says. He notes that driverless vehicle can more accurately judge distances and velocities, and react instantly to situations that could cause accidents due to a delayed human response. In the Virginia Tech system, the intersection controller takes over the vehicle within 200 meters of the intersection. "The aim of giving complete authority to the controller is to overcome any selfish behavior by an autonomous vehicle and benefit all vehicles in the intersection zone," Zohdy says. "The controller determines the optimum speed and acceleration at each time step for every vehicle within the intersection zone by processing the input data through a real-time simulator/tool."
A Bridge to the Quantum World: Dirac Electrons Found in Unique Material
University of Michigan News Service (12/04/12) Nicole Casal Moore
University of Michigan researchers have found Dirac electrons in copper-doped bismuth selenide, a discovery that could lead to the development of quantum computers. Dirac electrons are particles with such high energy that they exhibit properties of both classical and quantum physics. The researchers were able to observe the Dirac electrons by cooling the material to cryogenic temperatures and exposing it to a strong magnetic field. The Dirac electrons within the copper-doped bismuth selenide can clump together into a new kind of qubit that changes the properties of the material in a way that is detectable to an observer but not to the qubits. The researchers say this phenomenon enables the qubits to carry out calculations without knowing they are being measured. They say the material could help solve the problem of local noise, in which a qubit represents both a "0" and a "1" at the same time until it is measured. "The so-called qubit is no longer the object we're looking at," says Michigan professor Lu Li. "This material could be a promising way to make quantum computers."
Squirrels and Birds Inspire Researchers to Create Deceptive Robots
Georgia Tech News (12/03/12) Jason Maderer
Georgia Tech researchers are studying the behavioral patterns of squirrels and birds to develop robots that are capable of deceiving each other. The researchers, led by professor Ronald Arkin, studied how squirrels patrol hidden caches of acorns, routinely going back and forth to check on them. However, when another squirrel shows up, hoping to raid the hiding spot, the hoarding squirrel starts visiting empty hiding places in an attempt to trick it. The researchers implemented the same strategy into a robotic model and showed that the deceiving robot was able to lure a "predator" robot to false locations, delaying the discovery of protected resources. "This application could be used by robots guarding ammunition or supplies on the battlefield," Arkin says. The researchers also studied Arabian babblers, a bird that will sometimes join other species of birds to harass a common predator, which causes the predator to give up the attack and leave. The researchers created a simulated babbler to determine if it is more likely to survive if it fakes strength. The simulation shows that deception is the best strategy when the addition of deceitful agents pushes the size of the group to the minimum level required to frustrate a predator into fleeing.
DARPA Program Aims to Find, Shut Backdoor Malware Holes in Commercial IT Devices
Network World (11/30/12) Michael Cooney
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Vetting Commodity IT Software and Firmware (VET) program aims to develop systems that can verify the security of commercial IT devices. "Backdoors, malicious software, and other vulnerabilities unknown to the user could enable an adversary to use a device to accomplish a variety of harmful objectives, including the exfiltration of sensitive data and the sabotage of critical operations," according to DARPA. VET will developed a method for Department of Defense (DoD) analysts to produce a prioritized checklist of software and firmware components and broad classes of hidden malicious functionality. The VET program also will help DoD analysts demonstrate the absence of those broad classes of hidden malicious functionality. Finally, VET will determine how this procedure can scale to non-specialist technicians who must verify every new device used by the DoD. "The most significant output of the VET program will be a set of techniques, tools, and demonstrations that will forever change this perception," says DARPA's Tim Fraser.
The Robotic Equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife
MIT News (11/30/12) David L. Chandler
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed milli-motein, a tiny robot that could lead to future devices that can fold themselves into almost any shape. "It’s effectively a one-dimensional robot that can be made in a continuous strip, without conventionally moving parts, and then folded into arbitrary shapes," says MIT's Neil Gershenfeld. The researchers developed an electropermanent motor, which is able to hold its position even with the power switched off. To create the robot, a series of permanent magnets paired with electromagnets are arranged in a circle. The key innovation is that they do not take power in either the on or the off state, but only use power in the changing state, using minimal energy overall, says MIT's Ara Knaian. The researchers found that a string of subunits capable of folding itself into any shape could be simpler in terms of control, power, and communications than using separate pieces that must find each other and assemble in the right order. "This result brings us closer to the idea of programmable matter--where computer programs and materials merge to form a new kind of matter whose shape and function can be programmed--not unlike biology," says Cornell University professor Hod Lipson.
Preventing "Cyber Pearl Harbor": Improving Cyber Attack Detection Through Computer Modeling
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (11/30/12) Lois Smith
Defense secretary Leon E. Panetta recently warned that the U.S. was facing the possibility of a "cyber-Pearl Harbor" and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could disrupt the government, utility, transportation, and financial networks. The key to protecting online operations is a high degree of cybersecurity awareness, says human factors/ergonomics researchers Varun Dutt, Young-Suk Ahn, and Cleotilde Gonzalez. The researchers have developed a computer model that presents 500 simulated cyberattack scenarios to gauge simulated network security analysts' ability to detect attacks characterized as either "impatient," meaning the threat occurs early in the attack; or "patient," meaning the threat comes later in the attack and is not detected right away. The model was able to predict the detection rates of security analysts by varying the analysts’ degree of experience and risk tolerance as well as an attacker’s strategy. The researchers found that experienced, risk-averse analysts were less accurate at detecting threats in patient than in impatient attacks. "In a patient attack, when the attacker waits until the end to generate threats, the experiences in the analyst’s memory that indicate an attack" are not as readily retrieved, Dutt says, which "makes it difficult to correctly detect patient attacks."
How to Build a Million-Qubit Quantum Computer
Princeton University professor Jason Petta and his team have developed a method that could eventually enable engineers to build a working quantum computer comprising millions of qubits. "The whole game at this point in quantum computing is trying to build a larger system," says Andrew Houck, who is part of the research team at the university. To this end, Petta’s team used a stream of microwave photons to analyze a pair of electrons trapped in a tiny cage called a quantum dot. The "spin state" of the electrons serves as the qubit, and the microwave stream enables the scientists to read that information. "We create a cavity with mirrors on both ends--but they don’t reflect visible light, they reflect microwave radiation," Petta says. "Then we send microwaves in one end, and we look at the microwaves as they come out the other end. The microwaves are affected by the spin states of the electrons in the cavity, and we can read that change." He says the next step is to increase the reliability of the setup for a single electron pair and to add more quantum dots to create more qubits.
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