Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the February 25, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Could Technology Help Catch Lying Politicians?
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (02/22/13) Stephen Harris

Computer scientists say voice-recognition systems eventually could be used in conjunction with artificial intelligence technology to determine if a person is telling the truth. Acorn Computers co-founder Hermann Hauser, for example, has met with Google executives about the possibility of developing an "evidence meter" that could be used to determine if a politician is lying. "The idea is if voice recognition is good enough, which it clearly is now, it can run continuous voice recognition at the bottom of your TV screen whenever they interview David Cameron or the opposition leader," Hauser says. "So this running evidence-meter below the news item I think could be a very cool thing to implement." However, although the voice recognition technology is readily available, the artificial intelligence technology that would be required to create such a fact-checking system is more problematic. "The problem is the knowledge that would be required for responding to the queries," says University College London professor Anthony Hunter. "If the queries were within quite a restricted domain then this is perfectly possible. But [for political speeches] the domains would, by and large, be too broad that you could have a significantly broad knowledge base to check those facts."


New Groundwork Web Dev Framework Shows Promise
InfoWorld (02/22/13) Paul Krill

The Groundwork software development framework promises to make it easier to develop Web applications. Groundwork, which founder Gary Hepting introduced as an open source project earlier in February, is an HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript framework designed to enable users to rapidly prototype and build Web sites and applications. The beta release is built with Sass. Groundwork leverages the Sass CSS preprocessor, which extends CSS3 by adding nested rules, variables, selector inheritance, and other features. "Groundwork offers an extremely flexible fractions-based grid system that can utilize halves through twelfths and two strategically targeted break-points, or media queries, that enable the ability to adapt layouts for mobile and handheld devices," Hepting says. The project's Web page describes Groundwork as a tool for developing applications scaling from handheld devices to large-format TVs. 451 Research analyst Jay Lyman notes that Groundwork "highlights the polyglot programming trend whereby there is a lot more variability in the languages and frameworks used by developers for today's applications."


Writing Without Keyboard: Handwriting Recognition on the Wrist
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (02/21/13)

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) researchers have developed an "air-writing" system that uses sensors attached to a glove to recognize hand movements as a user writes letters in the air. The movements are captured and converted into text by a computer that the user wears like clothing. “Information technology is used any time and anywhere, but smart phones are still working on the basis of virtual keyboards and small screens," says KIT's Christoph Amma. "However, gestures allow for new types of input--in particular for mobile devices or devices integrated in clothing.” The sensors are very small and robust, and use a wireless connection to transmit signals. The system ignores movements that are not intended as writing, such as cooking or doing laundry. In addition, KIT's system is more sophisticated than previous such technologies because it uses a pattern-recognition method with a statistical model of the characteristic signal pattern for each letter of the alphabet. The system also recognizes individual differences in writing style, which reduces the error rate to 3 percent from an initial rate of 11 percent. The system could be used in mixed-reality applications, such as glasses with integrated miniaturized screens that display information in a user's field of vision.


Touchy-Feely Bionic Hand Closer to Reality
TechNewsDaily (02/20/13) Charles Q. Choi

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology researchers are developing a bionic hand featuring an interface that links the hand to a person's nervous system. During a four-week clinical trial, the researchers found they could improve sensory feedback that an amputee received from bionics by using electrodes implanted into the median and ulnar nerves in the arm near the stump. The researchers also analyzed motor neural activity from the nerves and found that they could tease out signals related to grasping to help control a prosthetic hand placed near the amputee but not physically attached to the person's arm. "We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years," says Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Silvestro Micera. The researchers also announced a new clinical trial that will connect the prosthetic hand directly to a patient as part of the Italian Ministry of Health's NEMESIS project. The researchers say future research could have amputees train for what bionic hands might feel like using virtual-reality experiments that could help them reconstruct their body images. "In the medium term we'd like to have virtual-reality environments for training patients," Micera says.


MIT Researchers Build Quad HD TV Chip
MIT News (02/20/13) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a high-efficiency video coding (HEVC) chip, which demonstrates that implementing HEVC algorithms in silicon chips is possible and shows how its design principles could be used. The HEVC standard exploits the fact that in successive frames of video, most of the pixels stay the same. MIT's chip increases efficiency by pipelining the decoding process. A chunk of data is decompressed and passed to a motion-compensation circuit, but as soon as the motion compensation begins, the decompression circuit takes in the next chunk of data. After motion compensation is complete, the data passes to a circuit that applies the corrective data and, finally, to a filtering circuit that smooths out whatever rough edges remain. The application of the corrective data is a single calculation known as matrix multiplication. The researchers also developed a more efficient way to store video data in memory, which involves optimizing the data into small square blocks that are stored together. "When you access something from memory, you not only get the pixels on the right and left, but you also get the pixels on the top and bottom in the same request," says MIT's Chiraag Juvekar.


Why Microsoft Is Pushing a Touch-Based Web of Tomorrow
Wired News (02/21/13) Alexandra Chang

Microsoft believes the future of the Internet is the touch-based gestures that are used on smartphones. Despite theories that the Web is obsolete, the amount of time users spend on the Web, about 70 minutes per day, has not declined in recent years, according to recent studies. Many new user interfaces are full-screen experiences that require touch gestures to bring up various windows. Microsoft says these developments will enable the Web to become a blank canvas, uninhibited by features found in conventional Web browsers. Some new user interfaces offer unique features such as pinning Web sites to the Start Screen similar to the way app icons are placed on desktops. "When you spend 40 to 50 percent time of your time on [the browser], it really shouldn’t be second-class status," says Microsoft's Ryan Gavin. "You really have to innovate in a few key areas--like hardware acceleration, letting the browser tap into performance capabilities of the device." The possible future of the Web makes the browser battles of the past seem insignificant, as companies will focus on optimizing their browsers for their particular devices. "The move away from proprietary, single-vendor platforms is a healthy thing for creators and consumers," says Firefox's Johnathan Nightingale.


Researchers Find Way to Pinpoint Location Where Online Video was Shot
CIO (02/19/13) Bill Snyder

International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) researchers are developing video-recognition technology that can analyze video and determine the time and place it was shot. The researchers are building a video database by analyzing videos downloaded from Flickr, says ICSI's Gerald Friedland. Data from videos taken at identified locations is used to develop profiles of the respective locations. As more videos embedded with geographical information are downloaded, the researchers will use them to train the software to recognize more locations. During testing, the researchers were able to pinpoint the location where 14 percent of the videos were shot to within about 33 feet by comparing the database's information to about 5,000 unfiltered videos, says ICSI's Jaeyoung Choi. The system also can pinpoint location by analyzing sounds in a video. The researchers note the same technology can be applied to photographs. However, they say only about 3 to 5 percent of Internet videos contain geographical information that can be used to determine where they were taken, so it will take some time to build the video database.


Could a Computer on the Police Beat Prevent Violence?
UofMHealth.org (02/18/13) Kara Gavin

An interdisciplinary team of University of Michigan researchers used police data to demonstrate how computer models can help identify violent areas. The researchers combined and analyzed information in small geographic units on police reports, drug offenses, alcohol availability, education levels, and employment rates. The model produced a detailed map of violent crime hot spots and a better understanding of factors that create the right environment for violence. "This approach allows us to find predictors of violence that aren’t just related to an individual’s predisposition--but rather, allow us to study people in places and a social environment," says Michigan professor Robert Lipton. Although Lipton and his colleagues have studied the relationship between alcohol availability and violence for years, the new research adds arrests for drug possession and dealing, and citizen calls to 911 about drug use, as well as the broader geographic factors surrounding each type of establishment where alcohol is sold. The researchers hope to help policy makers and police identify areas that have higher rates of risk factors that may combine to produce violence.


New iPad App for People With Sight Loss Needs Backing From Publishers
Royal Holloway, University of London (02/18/13)

A new iPad app developed by scientists at Royal Holloway University could make it easier for people with macular disease to read. The app, called MD_evReader, enhances the eccentric viewing technique for reading eBooks. MD_evReader would enable people with low vision to scroll text from any ePub document into a single stream, like a news ticker, and would help them maintain a steady eye by presenting text into the reader’s best point of eccentric vision. Users will be able to control the speed at which the text appears with a trackpad, and make changes to background and text color. Moreover, the content can be displayed on digital TV screens and in very large font sizes. "Volunteers who have been involved in testing the app have largely reported that the experience of reading was greatly improved with this system," says Royal Holloway professor Robin Walker. However, researchers note that digital rights management systems would limit the impact of the app because they restrict access to books.


Human-Robot Relations: Why We Should Worry
LiveScience (NY) (02/18/13) Clara Moskowitz

Technology is eroding social connections between human beings as machines step in to fill social needs, and the time has come to reevaluate the place for technology in our lives, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle. She says tools such as Siri and Apple's iPhone digital assistant encourage people to view technology as companions. Children now have robotic pets that many prefer to actual pets that eventually die, eliminating the opportunity that real pets provide to learn about life and death. In addition, teenagers are beginning to value the dating advice of computers with immense data access over potentially faulty parental guidance, Turkle says. "We are forgetting crucial things about the care and conversation that can only occur between humans," she says. Turkle also worries about replacing human caretakers with robots. She says that although older people might benefit from talking to robots, younger people will miss out on the opportunity to learn from their elders. "For the idea of artificial companionship to become our new normal, we have to change ourselves, and in the process we are remaking human values and human connection," Turkle says.


Researchers Borrow DNA Tricks to Identify Malware's Genetic Code
V3.co.uk (02/18/13)

Auckland University of Technology researchers Ajit Narayanan and Yi Chen are developing a defense strategy for malware that is inspired by biology. The researchers say data-mining technology could be used to determine whether a program was benign or likely malware. "One of the problems in applying automatic data-mining techniques to malware code directly, even if it is available, is the variable length of the code, since most data-mining and other machine-learning techniques assume fixed-length sequences with a column representing measurements of the same variable across many samples," they note in a research paper. To address this issue, Narayanan and Chen developed a technique to turn malware hexadecimal signatures into amino acid representations, then used established protein-modeling systems to analyze the malware. A test showed the system could be used to create genetic fingerprints for the malware much more accurately than currently possible. They say the system potentially could enable them to build an algorithm that can analyze a program and determine whether it contains malware.


Information Bottleneck
UDaily (DE) (02/18/13) Karen B. Roberts

The growing use of technology and data consumption is causing an information bottleneck, requiring higher-capacity bandwidths. University of Delaware researchers have developed a device that provides access to higher-capacity bandwidths by capitalizing on photonic-based radio frequency systems. The device is multifunctional, which enables users to transmit voice and data communications, as well as satellite communications and radar signals. The device uses a technique known as sideband injection locking developed by Delaware professor Dennis Prather. "If we put a radio signal with an antenna into a custom-made modulator and then connect a laser beam to the device, it generates harmonics," Prather says. By inputting a related frequency into the laser beam, the researchers can generate a shifted harmonic, and when the signals are mixed, they cancel what is identical, leaving the user with only the signal's difference frequency. Prather says the system’s flexibility across multiple information platforms means less equipment to perform multiple functions, less training for operators, and a product that can adapt to capture or transmit varying information. "We want the application to define the limits, not our ability to harness one particular portion of the spectrum," he says.


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