Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the December 10, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Russia, China Alliance Wants Greater Govt Voice in Internet Oversight
Reuters (12/09/12) Matt Smith; Joseph Menn

Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates submitted a proposal that would give sweeping new governmental powers to regulate cyberspace to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The proposal, which was made during a 12-day conference called to rewrite the international treaty covering telecommunications, also could allow countries to block some Web locations and take over control of allotting Internet addresses from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The U.S., many European countries, Australia, and Japan want the treaty to continue to apply only to traditional telecommunications. "Much of the Internet was developed from U.S. research funding, and the U.S. has kept a residual role, so many other governments say it's not right that one government 'controls' the Internet," says the Internet Society's Markus Kummer. However, decentralizing the process could prove chaotic if many countries demand that companies use only their national system, notes former ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom. The Russian proposal also would give ITU member states the authority to control other elements of the Internet's infrastructure within their borders. The U.S. has developed a counterproposal that would stop the treaty from being applied to Internet companies such as Google or government and business networks.


IBM Chip Aims to Use Light to Speed up Internet Services
BBC News (12/09/12) Leo Kelion

IBM researchers have developed a chip that makes it easier to move data via pulses of light instead of using electrical signals. The chip could offer a way to move large amounts of information between processors in computer servers at higher speeds than in existing systems. Although data centers have already started using optical cables to move data between racks of computer chips instead of copper cables, they need special equipment to convert the light-encoded data into a format that processors can use. IBM's researchers say they have made it possible for this conversion process to take place on a chip that integrates optical components next to electrical circuits on the same piece of silicon. "With this new technology you can make this fast search happen in a way that makes economic sense," says IBM's Solomon Assefa. Each chip contains several channels that can each handle light-encoded data at speeds of up to 25 gigabits per second. When the channels are combined, data can be transferred hundreds of times faster, according to the researchers. "There should be demand from data centers where there's a need to shift around huge amounts of information," says University of Surrey professor Alan Woodward.


UCSB Researchers Take Next-Generation Augmented Reality Apps 'Anywhere'
UC Santa Barbara (12/06/12) Melissa Van De Werfhorst

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers are working to make augmented reality (AR) applications for mobile devices smarter and more sophisticated. The researchers want to develop next-generation AR that is more stable, realistic, and dynamically updated by users. "Our research employs real-time computer vision for more stable presentation of 3D computer graphics that appear as if they are truly part of the physical world," says UCSB professor Tobias Hollerer. The research combines mobile computer vision capture with crowdsourced user data that can immediately discern whether the app object matches the object in reality, known as anywhere augmented reality. However, to achieve "anywhere augmentation," the researchers must first design an interface with which potential developers can experiment out of the box. The UCSB researchers are collaborating with Virginia Tech researchers to create an optimal user interface for AR. The research enables users in different locations to see and assign data within a target scene, extending 2D tracking to a real-time 3D scenario. "The applications for mobile, real-time augmented reality can have a major impact on health, education, entertainment, and many other areas," says UCSB professor Matthew Turk.


Your Next Boss Could Be a Computer
New Scientist (12/06/12) Douglas Heaven

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have developed AutoMan, an automated artificial intelligence-based system that can delegate tasks to human workers via crowdsourcing platforms. The researchers designed AutoMan to send out jobs, manage workers, accept or reject work, and make payments. The researchers note that AutoMan does not attempt to predict the reliability of its workers based on their previous performance. Instead, if the system is not sure it has the correct answer, it keeps on posting the same job, upping the fee each time, until it is confident that it does. "One way to think about it is that it saves the interesting parts, the creative parts, or the fun parts for people," says University of Massachusetts Amherst researcher Daniel Barowy. AutoMan will be given a budget by the app developer and programmed to keep costs down. The researchers hope their system will make crowdsourcing mainstream, with software delegating tasks to human workers around the globe. "AutoMan might even help grow a new class of jobs that could become a new sector of the world economy," says University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Emery Berger.


Data Services With In-Built Self-Defense
SINTEF (12/07/12) Ase Dragland

SINTEF ICT researchers want data systems to adapt to virus and hacker attacks, and automatically replace compromised software components without inconveniencing the user. "Our objective is to devise more robust and operationally-secure IT services--whether you are booking concert tickets or submitting your tax returns," says SINTEF's Per Hakon Meland. "We want to enable services to adapt in the face of attacks. Users won't have to close a program and start up again when they get a message saying that 'the service is unavailable at the moment.'" The researchers believe online reputational mechanisms could be used to market effective IT security. Secure components would need to be designed from the bottom up, and must remain secure even if their operational environment and users change over time. A data system would need to be built in a way that makes it possible to quickly and inexpensively replace weak components. "The new systems would be able to notify the user when a security breach is discovered in a component by means of an alarm service built into the component itself," Meland says.


Sensor Network to Protect the Elderly
National Science Foundation (12/06/12) Marlene Cimons

University of Missouri researchers have developed a sensor network that can remotely monitor changes in a person's activity patterns and baseline health conditions and alert health professionals to early signs of illness and functional decline. The system can provide automated data that indicates the possible need for medical assistance, enabling the elderly to avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor. The sensor network currently is being tested in an eldercare facility, but the researchers recently received a U.S. National Science Foundation grant to expand the research to a second location. The network consists of motion detectors, video-gaming technology based on the Microsoft Kinect system that can monitor a person's gait, and a hydraulic bed sensor that goes underneath the mattress and can measure an individual's pulse, respiration, and restlessness during sleep. "What we want is for them to be able to live their typical lifestyle pattern and go about their daily activities while, computationally, we are capturing a pattern that represents their usual behavior in their homes-and then we look for changes," says Missouri professor Marjorie Skubic. "This has such a potential to proactively help seniors stay healthy and in their own homes, while at the same time saving healthcare costs."


CCC to Sponsor Challenges and Visions Track at CIDR 2013
CCC Blog (12/06/12) Kenneth Hines

The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is sponsoring a series of “Challenges and Visions” tracks at the 6th Biennial Conference on Innovative Data Systems Research (CIDR), which takes place Jan. 6-9, 2013, in Pacific Grove, Calif. CCC says the programs are designed to break free of the shackles of the normal reviewing process while still requiring a paper. The CIDR conference seeks papers about innovative and risky approaches, systems-building experience, killer applications and “war stories,” experimental studies, unsolved technical challenges, provocative position statements, and other unconventional papers on the architecture and implementation of data-centric systems. CCC's Outrageous Ideas and Visions (OIV) track focused on long-term challenges and opportunities for the database and data management communities that fall outside of the field's current mainstream research areas. The 15 OIV papers accepted for this year's conference focus on new application domains and ways of thinking about data, and fresh approaches to old problems. The OIV track also allowed for papers that focus on topics not getting as much attention or that lack any grounding in current or near-term practice.


Point of Light
Caltech (12/06/12) Marcus Woo

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) researchers have created a device that can focus light into a point just a few nanometers across, a breakthrough they say could lead to next-generation applications in computing, communications, and imaging. In conventional electronics, light can only be focused down to the size of the wavelength, an amount known as the diffraction limit. The Caltech device, called a waveguide, can break this diffraction limit. As light is sent through the waveguide, the photons interact with electrons causing them to oscillate, and the oscillations move along the device as waves. Since the electron oscillations are directly coupled with the light, they carry the same information and properties and can serve as a proxy for the light. The device is built on a semiconductor chip with standard nanofabrication techniques, which makes it able to integrate with existing technology, notes Caltech professor Hyuck Choo. "Our new device is based on fundamental research, but we hope it's a good building block for many potentially revolutionary engineering applications," says Caltech researcher Myung-Ki Kim. The device could lead to new computer hard drives that hold more memory via heat-assisted magnetic recording, or new data-transfer and communication applications.


Reading History Through Genetics
ScienceBlog.com (12/06/12)

Columbia University researchers have developed a method for analyzing genetic data to learn more about the history of populations. The researchers have demonstrated the method in two populations: the Ashkenazi Jews, who remained isolated from surrounding groups; and the Masai people of Kenya, who grew from frequent cross-migration with neighboring villages. "Through this work, we’ve been able to recover very recent and refined demographic history, within the last few centuries, in contrast to previous methods that could only paint broad brushstrokes of the much deeper past, many thousands of years ago," says Columbia professor Itsik Pe'er. The technique involves using computational genetics to develop methods for analyzing DNA sequence variants. It includes a mathematical framework and software to describe and analyze the histories of the two populations. "While the deluge of big data has forced us to develop better algorithms to analyze them, it has also rewarded us with unprecedented levels of understanding," Pe'er says.


Is the Light Spectrum the Next Frontier for Wireless?
Government Computer News (12/06/12) John Breeden II

Computer devices could eventually use light to communicate, and Li-Fi, formally called visible light communications, could replace Wi-Fi, says the University of Edinburgh's Harald Hass. He believes visible light communications could be a solution for the limits of current wireless networking technology. A microchip could be added to a standard light-emitting diode (LED) light to make it blink millions of times per second, and mobile devices with readers could then translate those blinks, which represent ones and zeros, into data. Adding an LED to mobile devices would enable communication in the other direction. Hass says that if visible light communication technology was adopted, every street light could become a high-speed Internet port, and the human eye would not be able to tell the difference between a data-enabled light and a standard, always-on bulb. However, current limitations include the fact that light communication needs constant line-of-site, the signal cannot travel through walls, neon signs and non-communicating light could interfere with it, and the handoff between close hubs must be worked out.


State Moving Ahead With STEM Initiatives
Cumberland Times-News (MD) (12/05/12) Sophie Petit

Learning Studios is a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program launched by the National Commission on Teaching America's Future that unites STEM professionals with teachers and students to work on real-world projects. The program is part of an overall effort to address the fact that students are not interested in STEM-related subjects and there are not enough teachers who are qualified to teach them. The program started in six Maryland public schools in 2009 and today is used in 30 schools across four districts, according to commission president Tom Carroll. Maryland is the first state to set specific "STEM standards of practice" that tell teachers what STEM is and how to teach the subjects, according to Maryland Department of Education STEM coordinator Donna Clem. Learning Studios is designed to make math and science more accessible to students by having them work on real projects with STEM professionals. The four-year $250 million federal Race to the Top grant, awarded to Maryland in 2010, has helped to fund the Learning Studios program, which can cost each school district up to $75,000 a year.


Flexible Robots Make Their Own Decisions
University West (12/05/2012) Charlotta Sjostedt

University West researchers have developed an automation system in which machines and robots make their own decisions and adapt to external circumstances. University West scientist Bo Svensson notes that normally automated production lines continue to function as long as nothing goes wrong. However, "a single error somewhere makes everything stop," Svensson says. In the University West system, each robot, conveyor, and machine is equipped with an agent that does not require signals from a master control system to act. "The agents know what neighbors they should communicate with and make small local decisions," says University West scientist Fredrik Danielsson. An agent is triggered by what is happening next to it, and operators can insert a new part in the middle of the flow without disturbing the system. The operator gives P-SOP software instructions, in the form of a PowerPoint sketch, of how the system should work.


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