Welcome to the March 13, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Turing Award Goes to MIT Crypto Experts Goldwasser and Micali
Network World (03/13/13) Bob Brown
ACM has named Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professors Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali as the recipients of the 2012 A.M. Turing Award, renowned as the "Nobel Prize in Computing." The Turing Award, ACM's top technical honor, is bestowed on recipients who have made significant contributions with a lasting impact on computing. "By formalizing the concept that cryptographic security had to be computational rather than absolute, they created mathematical structures that turned cryptography from an art into a science," ACM says. "Their advances led to the notion of interactive and probabilistic proofs and had a profound impact on computational complexity, an area that focuses on classifying computational problems according to their inherent difficulty." Goldwasser and Micali are responsible for the security that makes online transactions possible, including Web browser and credit card encryption, says ACM president Vinton Cerf. The recipients, principal investigators at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, collaborated on the mathematical foundations of cryptography. The winners will share the Turing Award's $250,000 prize, made possible by Google and Intel donations. ACM will present the 2012 A.M. Turing Award at its annual Awards Banquet on June 15, in San Francisco.
California Bill Seeks Campus Credit for Online Study
New York Times (03/12/13) Tamar Lewin
California state lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that would require the state's public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for traditional classes because they were already filled. Despite opposition about the measure from some faculty members, analysts say the bill is likely to pass after refinements to the language. As part of the new law, some of the eligible courses would be free massively open online courses (MOOCs), while others might come from companies that offer low-cost online courses. The legislation would use an existing panel of three members each from the University of California, California State University, and the community college system to determine which 50 introductory courses were most oversubscribed and which online versions of those courses should be eligible for credit. The legislation "could be a catalyst for widespread change, driving community colleges where they turn away a lot of students to move quickly to put more of their own courses online, and charge tuition, to keep their students from taking the courses elsewhere," says the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Josh Jarrett.
Foreign Students Now a Majority in U.S. Computer Science Grad Schools
Computerworld (03/11/13) Patrick Thibodeau
Foreign students represent the majority of students in computer science department graduate programs, according to the Computing Research Association (CRA). In the 2011-2012 academic year, foreign students accounted for 60 percent of students enrolled in computer science Ph.D. programs, which is a new high. In addition, foreign students made up 53.8 percent of graduates from master's programs last year, up from 47.8 percent in 2010-2011. However, at the undergraduate level, foreign students accounted for only 6.9 percent of bachelor's degree graduates. Overall, a new high of 1,929 Ph.D. degrees were granted last year, up 8.2 percent from 2010-2011. Enrollment in computer science departments has risen over the past five years. George Washington University's Abdou Youssef thinks U.S. graduate programs will maintain their global advantage for now, but other countries are investing heavily in their higher education capabilities. "Unless we remain competitive ourselves, we stand to lose some of our international population to other countries and universities," he says.
Making Cloud Computing More Efficient
MIT News (03/12/13) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are creating DBSeer, a system that could alleviate cloud computing inefficiencies that arise from the overprovisioning that occurs with database-intensive applications. DBSeer also could help lower the cost of cloud services and facilitate the diagnosis of application slowdowns. Database-driven applications in the cloud can result in the allocation of about 20 times more hardware than should be required, because server resources are allocated according to an application’s peak demand. Increased demand on database-heavy applications significantly slows the system as requests require multiple modifications of the same data on different servers. DBSeer uses machine-learning techniques to create accurate models of performance and resource demands of database-driven applications. The MIT researchers used two techniques to forecast a database-driven application's response to a load increase. The first technique is a black box approach in which DBSeer tracks changes in the number and type of user requests and system performance, correlating the two via machine-learning techniques. This black box technique excels at forecasting the impact of smaller fluctuations. However, for predicting the consequences of greater demand increase, the researchers use a gray box technique that factors in the unique qualities of a specific database system.
Cloud Computing Platform Will Help Robots Learn Faster
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (03/11/13)
A new cloud-computing platform for robots developed by researchers at five European universities could accelerate learning and adaptation for complex tasks. Robots can use the RoboEarth Cloud Engine to directly connect to the Internet and access computational, storage, and communications infrastructure for tasks. Developed as a platform as a service for robots, the enterprise-scale computing infrastructure enables robots to perform functions such as mapping, navigation, or processing human voice commands in the cloud in much less time than with robots' onboard computers. The RoboEarth Cloud Engine also could lead to lighter, less expensive, and more intelligent robots. "The RoboEarth Cloud Engine is particularly useful for mobile robots, such as drones or autonomous cars, which require lots of computation for navigation," says Swiss Federal Institute of Technology researcher Mohanarajah Gajamohan. "It also offers significant benefits for robot co-workers, such as factory robots working alongside humans, which require large knowledge databases, and for the deployment of robot teams," Meanwhile, Eindhoven University of Technology's Heico Sandee notes, "with the rapid increase in wireless data rates caused by the booming demand of mobile communications devices, more and more of a robot's computational tasks can be moved into the cloud."
Tim Berners-Lee on the Making of New Worlds
Washington Post (03/11/13) Emi Kolawole
Sir Tim Berners-Lee on Sunday delivered the keynote address at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Tex., emphasizing the need to fight for an open Internet. Open Web platform HTML5 is Berners-Lee's current focus, he says, noting that “this is a platform for all kinds of massive platform innovation...It’s also cool because it lets you program for a browser--and browsers run everywhere." Two digital divides now exist, Berners-Lee says--the traditional gap between those with access to technology and those without, and an emerging chasm between people who code and people who do not. Although conceding that some people are better disposed for coding than others, Berners-Lee encourages everyone to try. In the future of the Internet, Berners-Lee says "the sky is the limit" with HTML5 as people begin creating new platforms on top of the open Web platform. “We’re making new worlds. We’re building new societies. And we’re going to have to make some very powerful, democratic, fair societies for the future, or we won’t be able to solve the massive problems that we have out there,” he says.
Iran Blocks Way to Bypass Internet Filtering System
New York Times (03/11/13) Thomas Erdbrink
Iran's Ministry of Information and Communications Technology has installed hardware that blocks the most popular software used by millions of Iranians to bypass the official Internet filtering system in an attempt to gain more control over the way Iranians use the Internet. A group of illegal virtual private networks (VPNs) was recently closed off by the ministry, making access to websites designated as immoral or politically dangerous, such as Facebook and Whitehouse.gov, nearly impossible. Users trying to visit illegal sites are redirected to a page on which they are encouraged to report illegal use of the Internet. The VPNs helped users to go online through foreign-based servers and anonymously visit websites. Although the software is illegal in Iran, it has been widely available in the country for some time. The Iranian government now has the ability to control the software when it is used in Iran, according to industry insiders. Meanwhile, the government is starting to use smart filtering systems that block only indecent or otherwise sensitive parts of a website.
Digital Records Could Expose Intimate Details and Personality Traits of Millions
University of Cambridge (03/11/13)
University of Cambridge researchers have found that accurate estimates of Facebook users' race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, substance use, and political views can be determined by analyzing their Facebook Likes. The researchers analyzed more than 58,000 U.S. Facebook users, who volunteered their Likes, demographic profiles, and psychometric-testing results through the myPersonality application. Based on the data, the researchers were able to create statistical models that can predict user personality details. The models proved to be 88 percent accurate for determining male sexuality, 95 percent accurate in distinguishing between African-American and Caucasian users, and 85 percent accurate in differentiating Republicans from Democrats. In addition, Christians and Muslims were correctly identified 82 percent of the time, while relationship status and substance abuse were correctly predicted in between 65 percent and 73 percent of cases. The researchers also tested personality traits such as intelligence, emotional stability, openness, and extraversion. "We believe that our results, while based on Facebook Likes, apply to a wider range of online behaviors," says Cambridge's Michal Kosinski.
NASA Exploring Groundbreaking Space Network to Sustain Large Data Dumps and Trips to the Moon, Mars
Network World (03/11/13) Michael Cooney
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is studying what technology will be needed after 2022 in order to support future space communication and navigation, and recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) to begin planning for such a new architecture. The RFI says the new network "shall also consider future science missions with greatly increased sensitivity of sensors that are capable of large data captures as well as future missions to the Moon and Mars where surface activities require supporting communications." The architecture also must be flexible to meet the changing needs between investments in operations and development, and it must be affordable as well as sustainable within a flat or decreasing budget environment. Last November NASA collaborated with the European Space Agency to successfully test an experimental version of an interplanetary Internet to control a robot on the ground in Germany from a laptop onboard the International Space Station (ISS). That test relied on NASA's Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol to transmit messages between the ISS and the robot. NASA says DTN technology is designed to enable Internet-like communications between space vehicles and infrastructure on another planet.
U.S. as Defender of Internet Freedom, Keen on Protecting IP Rights
Intellectual Property Watch (03/08/13) Catherine Saez
At a recent United Nations press briefing on securing human rights online, adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State Alec Ross said Internet freedom has emerged as a major component of U.S. foreign policy priorities. Ross notes the United States recently has spent about $100 million developing technologies that enable people to exercise their universal rights. Although many of the projects are classified, two are not. The Open Technology Initiative's Commotion Wireless program, for example, features an open source distributed communications platform that combines users' existing mobile phones, Wi-Fi-enabled computers, and other Wi-Fi-capable personal devices to create a metro-scale peer-to-peer communications network. Ross says the project "is a response to countries...who in the face of dissent literally turned down or slowed down the Internet and global networks." A second project, known as the panic button, is a response to scenarios in which people are arrested and their cell phones are seized. Ross says the panic button is a code that people fearing arrest can enter, "and it wipes and stores your communications and your address book to the cloud in a way that it cannot be keyed out" while also sending an alert to a pre-identified network of individuals.
White House Touts Hackathon Successes
Federal Computer Week (03/05/13) Frank Konkel
The White House Open Data Day Hackathon led to several useful tools, according to Peter Welsch, deputy director of Online Platform for the Office of Digital Strategy. The first Hackathon on Feb. 22 brought 21 computer programmers and technology experts together to build tools using the new application programming interface (API) that drives the We the People petitioning system, in collaboration with seven members of the White House team. Where the People is a time-lapse visualization showing where petitions are being signed, grouped by zip code and weighted for percentage of population. "Other projects included a dashboard that predicts when petitions will cross the 100,000 signature threshold, documentation and step-by-step primers on using the API, email alert systems that inform you when a petition on an issue you care about has been created, and more," Welsch says. The White House and the open source community benefit from the event, he points out. Some of the projects will be released as open source code and others will be incorporated into the We the People system.
Microsoft Unveils Self-Sketching Whiteboard Prototype
BBC News (03/04/13) Leo Kelion
Microsoft researchers are developing a whiteboard that can interpret users' sketches to complete the diagrams they are drawing. The digital canvas is designed to help users understand big data. The project is one of several large-screen technologies Microsoft is developing, which it believes will become more common both at work and home in the future. "As computers grow more capable of handling massive amounts of data, they also need to become more intuitive to use," says Microsoft researcher Kevin Kutz. "We're all about bringing that to life with new ways to engage with technology that emphasize voice, touch, and gesture." Although much recent research has been dedicated to the development of small high-definition displays, some industry analysts believe there is a demand for larger technologies to help interpret all of the data generated by today's electronic devices. "Interactive graphics can help reveal things you couldn't have seen normally otherwise--helping people with that task is going to be monumentally important in the future," says Gartner analyst Brian Blau.
CITRIS Newsletter (03/04/13) Gordy Slack
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley are working to increase freeway efficiency in a project called Connected Corridors. California's Bay Area and Los Angeles are tied for the second-worst traffic in the United States, and Connected Corridors aims to create technologies that will collect and analyze traffic data and make real-time, whole-system recommendations. A prototype traffic-advisory system for an as-yet-unnamed commuting corridor is planned in the next three years. Connected Corridors merges the Mobile Millennium project, which uses volunteer-supplied data from mobile phones to create a traffic-mapping application, with the Tools for Operational Planning project, which uses unique algorithms to model traffic. The combined program will rapidly assess traffic conditions and recommend a course of action for agencies that control the freeway and the nearby arterials. Policy will factor into the project because various agencies might have conflicting interests. The model will feature a decision tree that rejects actions violating interagency agreements. The project's software learns from experience by comparing predictions with historical outcomes to become more accurate over time. In the second phase, Connected Corridors will add a public transportation component that will inform drivers of their route choices while they are in transit.
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