Welcome to the January 28, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
2 Science Projects to Receive Award of 1 Billion Euros
New York Times (01/28/13) James Kanter
The European Commission announced that two science projects will be awarded approximately 1 billion euros each to respectively develop new information technology (IT) materials and create an unparalleled simulation of the human brain, with the goal being to stimulate industrial innovation in Europe. The first project will concentrate on ultrathin graphene, touted as a better electrical conductor than copper and a stronger material than steel. Foldable electronic components are one possible innovation stemming from the project. Meanwhile, the Human Brain Project targets mimicry of the brain and its functions with numerous potential applications, including better disease diagnosis, improved drug testing, and development of brain-modeled supercomputing methods. The objective of the funding program is to "keep Europe competitive, to keep Europe as the home of scientific excellence," says European Commissioner for IT Neelie Kroes. Researchers from 87 institutions will participate in the Human Brain Project, while more than 100 research groups will be involved in the new IT materials project. Kroes notes the funding plan allocates as much as 2 billion euros to support projects over 10 years, a financing model that should yield innovative technologies faster than the previous model's two- to four-year cycle.
Pentagon to Boost Cybersecurity Force
Washington Post (01/27/13) Ellen Nakashima
The Pentagon has approved plans to expand its cybersecurity force more than fivefold to protect the U.S.'s critical computer systems and conduct offensive computer operations against foreign enemies. The move is part of a larger strategy to transform the U.S. Department of Defense's Cyber Command from a defensive organization into an Internet-era weapon of war. The plan calls for the creation of "national mission forces," which protect computer systems that control vital infrastructure, "combat mission forces," which help commanders abroad complete offensive operations, and "cyber protection forces," which strengthen Defense Department networks. Officials say the plan will enable the Cyber Command to better fulfill its mission. “Given the malicious actors that are out there and the development of the technology, in my mind, there’s little doubt that some adversary is going to attempt a significant cyberattack on the United States at some point,” says former deputy Defense secretary William J. Lynn, who helped develop the Pentagon’s cybersecurity strategy. “The only question is whether we’re going to take the necessary steps like this one to deflect the impact of the attack in advance or ... read about the steps we should have taken in some post-attack commission report.”
Virginia Tech Computer Scientists Win Award for Their Research on a New Way to Study Molecular Networks
Virginia Tech News (01/25/13) Lynn Nystrom
The use of hypergraphs could lead to a more complete computational analysis of the multi-way interactions molecules can have within cells, suggest researchers at Virginia Tech. The team used hypergraphs, a generalization of a graph in which an hyperedge can connect multiple molecules, to capture the uncertainty in reverse engineering gene-to-gene networks from systems biology datasets. The researchers developed an algorithm that can discover hyperedges supported by sets of networks, and they sought to use hyperedges to suggest new experiments. They believe that incorporating data from the experiments might help refine hyperedges and resolve the interactions among molecules, which could lead to fruitful interplay and feedback between computation and experiment. The team's research received the Best Paper Award at the recent 2012 ACM Conference on Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, and Biomedicine. The "analysis of these interaction networks has relied almost entirely on graphs for modeling the information," the team wrote. "Since a link in a graph connects at most two molecules (e.g., genes or proteins), such edges can not accurately represent interactions among multiple molecules."
Liability Issues Create Potholes on the Road to Driverless Cars
Wall Street Journal (01/28/13) Dan Strumpf
Although widespread commercial use of driverless cars is still years away, Google and others are already testing the technology on roads and automakers have raised concerns about liability laws. The liability question could expand lawsuits to include the car's owner, a passenger, or the company that designed and/or built the car. "Their concern is that somebody comes along and modifies their vehicles, and they could be held liable if that technology doesn't work," says Arizona state Rep. Jeff Dial. California, Nevada, and Florida are the only states that have passed laws on driverless cars. In California, the legislation directs the Department of Motor Vehicles to come up with rules by 2015, while Florida's law gave its motor-vehicle agency until 2014 to prepare a report on the cars. Nevada's Department of Motor Vehicles already has 22 pages of rules for driverless vehicles, and has licensed Google, Audi, and Continental AG to test them on public roads. The vehicles must undergo 10,000 hours of testing on closed tracks and testers must put up a bond of at least $1 million to cover any potential liabilities.
Web Founder Berners-Lee: Share Info, Improve the World
CNet (01/25/13) Stephen Shankland
Sharing information online has the potential to improve society worldwide, said World Wide Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the recent 2013 World Economic Forum. Berners-Lee also says social networking sites should offer users more control over their personal data by allowing them to share it with other social networks. And he says governments should share information that is useful to the public, such as hospital health outcome data and pothole locations. In addition, Berners-Lee says academic papers should be freely accessible, and online music requires a new business model that allows easier access while also paying musicians. Internet activist Aaron Swartz was "an incredibly ethical person who thought a huge amount about what was right and how the world should be," and he used his programming skills to transform the world, says Berners-Lee of the 26-year-old programmer who committed suicide earlier this month. At the time of his death, Swartz was facing felony charges for downloading numerous academic papers. He notes Swartz downloaded public-domain court records from fee-based government systems and republished them for free to "point out that the government ought to be doing that." Berners-Lee says the Internet still offers the opportunity for significant progress. "World peace has not miraculously occurred," he says. "It hasn't really broken down cultural barriers. Can we develop systems that will cause that kind of change?"
Swipe, Shake, CTRL Z? Web Spec Aims to End Input Overload
ZDNet (01/25/13) Nick Heath
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently published the draft of IndieUI, a specification aimed at making it easier for developers to build Web applications that can be controlled by different devices. The draft sets out a specification for a software abstraction layer that translates user interaction into the desired action on the Web app's user interface. "Web developers won't have to worry about the specifics of how users provide input, and can focus just on the user intent," according to a W3C blog post. IndieUI provides an alternative to having to code for every possible input that could be used with an app, such as pressing a combination of keys or a screen swipe. Multizone's Angus Fox says IndieUI makes it possible to programmatically manipulate an application's interface in the same way a user would, and allows for automated testing of mobile Web applications across multiple platforms. IndieUI also is designed to increase the accessibility of Web apps by making it easier to interact with assistive technologies.
Using Twitter to Track the Flu
Johns Hopkins University (01/24/13) Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University researchers have developed a tweet-screening method that delivers real-time data on flu cases and filters out online discussions that are not linked to actual flu infections. The researchers say their method tracks more closely with government disease data than other Twitter-tracking methods. "We wanted to separate hype about the flu from messages from people who truly become ill," says Johns Hopkins professor Mark Dredze. In order to improve on existing methods, the researchers developed statistical methods based on human-language processing technologies, which are designed to filter out unimportant data. The Johns Hopkins system also provides real-time results, an advantage over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides flu-related symptoms two weeks after the data is collected. The researchers also have used their method to produce U.S. maps that document the year-to-year differences in flu outbreaks. "This new work demonstrates that Twitter posts can be used to guide public health officials in their response to outbreaks of infectious diseases," Dredze says.
Ford's Open-Source Kit Brings Era of Smart Car Apps
New Scientist (01/24/13) Douglas Heaven
Ford Motor Co. recently released OpenXC, an open source hardware and software toolkit that will allow the hacker community to experiment with the computer systems that run its cars. The open nature of the system could eventually lead to custom applications that give drivers more control over their car's performance. A driver will be able to download approved apps from a Ford store onto their smartphone that can communicate with a car's computer system. Such apps may tap some underused components of a car. Although manufacturers try to balance their cars between economy and performance, software could push it to one extreme or the other, giving the car owner a more efficient or faster vehicle than the one they bought, notes Ford researcher K. Venkatesh Prasad. Most microcontrollers in cars use the CAN bus protocol to communicate. Since this protocol is well understood, encryption can be bypassed with off-the-shelf tools. In theory, OpenXC will work with any make of car that supports the standards, and Toyota, Nissan, and Honda have already expressed interest in the system.
Cisco Futurists Plan for Internet of Everything
InformationWeek (01/22/13) Michael Endler
Cisco chief futurist Dave Evans and chief technology officer of emerging technology Guido Jouret recently discussed subjects ranging from lifespan longevity gains to the proliferation of wearable technology to the question of whether online education can match the social experience of traditional classrooms. They say the biggest theme driving future predictions is the vast amounts of information that will become available as everyday devices are equipped with sophisticated sensors and connected to the Internet. Some of the connections will come from next-generation designs and others will come from upgrades to existing products. "The marginal incremental cost to adding connecting or computing power is getting smaller and smaller," Jouret notes. Cisco estimates that more than 1.5 trillion existing devices currently have the potential to be connected to the Internet. All of this new information will merge with other expected advances, such as the ability to sequence one's genome in one day, or the ability to create replacement organs with 3D printing, which will help human lifespans extend hundreds of years. Moore's Law also impacts video, as increased pixel counts in security cameras enable retailers to monitor their stores and collect demographics information about customers.
Privacy Visor Blocks Facial Recognition Software
BBC News (01/22/13)
Scientists at Tokyo's National Institute of Informatics have designed a pair of glasses that can block facial-recognition software used by hidden cameras. Called the privacy visor, the prototype glasses make use of a near-infrared light source to confuse facial-recognition software. The near-infrared light "appends noise to photographed images without affecting human visibility," says professor Isao Echizen. He notes the glasses connect to a pocket power supply, and they could be sold at a reasonable price. The development of the privacy visor comes at a time when law enforcement agencies, stores, and social networks are increasingly using facial-recognition software. "As a result of developments in facial-recognition technology in Google images, Facebook, et cetera, and the popularization of portable terminals that append photos with photographic information [geotags] ... essential measures for preventing the invasion of privacy caused by photographs taken in secret and unintentional capture in camera images is now required," Echizen says.
The Job Market of 2045
IEEE Spectrum (01/22/13) Steven Cherry
Rice University professor Moshe Vardi predicts that by 2045 artificial intelligence (AI) will have progressed to a point that machines will be able to perform a significant percentage of human work. He projects ever-growing levels of robotic automation in the manufacturing industry, both in developed and developing countries. He also expects the complete automation of driving within another generation, while automated checkouts and even automated shelf-loading will be commonplace. On the other hand, Vardi does not think sales jobs, especially those involving human-to-human contact, will become roboticized anytime soon. Still, Vardi is unsettled by his observation that "we seem to be blindly developing the technology without worrying about the consequences." He makes a case for technological regulation, noting that "we adopt technology, we discover the consequences later, and at that point it’s very often too late to get off the technology." Vardi thinks the issue of AI and jobs merits serious discussion, not just by economists, but also by technology producers. "We need to start thinking, as we're producing technology, about using human technology, and to think about the consequence of technology, and maybe who has a role in producing technologies that will mitigate its impact," he says.
Asia's State-Sponsored Plan to Destroy the Language Barrier
GlobalPost (01/21/13) Patrick Winn
Mobile phone-based, on-the-spot translation technology developed over the past seven years is being freely distributed by a consortium of Asian governments. The open source U-STAR iPhone app supports widely used languages such as English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic, along with Mongolian, Malay, and Bhutan's Dzongkha tongue. U-STAR and other competing translation technologies aim to surmount the language barrier, which is especially prominent in Asia due to the region's density of varied scripts and dialects. U-STAR's developers say the app works best when the speaker utters simple questions that travelers often ask. "To make speech recognition accurate, you have to sculpt the vocabulary to the domain," says Chai Wutiwiwatchai with Thailand’s National Science and Technology Development Agency. "To start off, we made sure every language could at least cover the basic domain of travel." U-STAR translates English with more accuracy because it has a massive database of English speech housed in a Japanese language lab to draw upon. U-STAR records its users' speech so it can be added to a mounting body of spoken language in order to improve its translation, but Jianhua Tao with China's National Laboratory of Pattern Recognition speculates that real-time translation of spontaneous speech is "10, 15, maybe 20 years away."
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