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Welcome to the May 6, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Emerging Technologies at SC13: A Chat With the Chairs
HPC Wire (05/05/13)

SC13's new Emerging Technologies program will focus on hardware prototypes, software demos, and project presentations of technologies that could potentially shape computing and society as a whole. Emerging Technologies co-chairs Bob Lucas and Torsten Hoefler discuss the program, with Hoefler saying the goal is to attract large-scale or longer-term projects, with a concentration on aspects "such as development over a decade of significant new capabilities and their broader impact." Lucas says the program offers an opportunity for projects with a national or international scope to present their work on the SC13 exhibit floor. "We want to celebrate achievements in [high-performance computing], networking, storage, and analysis," he notes. Lucas also says their hope is that the program will draw initiatives that otherwise would not be represented at SC13, including "research projects at National Labs or companies that are not part of the mainstream business and may thus not have a showcase in their main booths. The mix of projects or simply 'cool ideas' will be a unique experience for all visitors." He also notes that the program's open nature provides "a great opportunity for informal discussions and starting collaborations."


Government Lab Reveals It Has Operated Quantum Internet for Over Two Years
Technology Review (05/06/13)

Researchers at Los Alamos National Labs report that for the last two and a half years, the facility has been running a quantum Internet that can transmit perfectly secure messages. The system involves creating a quantum network based on a hub-and-spoke-type arrangement, which is used to route all messages from any point in the network to another. The messages to the hub depend on the usual level of quantum security, but once at the hub they are converted to conventional classical bits and then reconverted into quantum bits to be routed along the second leg of their journey. The network should be secure as long as the hub is secure, but the increasing number of links to the hub complicates the ability to manage all possible connections that can be made between one network point and another. The researchers say they addressed this challenge via a strategy that outfits each network node with quantum transmitters, while only the hub is capable of receiving a quantum message. The researchers say the system's primary advantage is that it requires very simple technology, no more than a laser, at each node.


Do-Not-Track Talks Could Be Running Off the Rails
New York Times (05/03/13) Natasha Singer

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is meeting May 6-8 in an effort to reach an agreement that would offer a Do Not Track privacy mechanism for the Internet. "Most people don’t realize the extent to which this brazen online tracking is done, but when the practice is described, they want to be able to control it," says Consumer Watchdog's John M. Simpson. "Why should a company I know nothing about, have no say over, and no relationship with be able to collect information about my online activity?" The proposed W3C standard says that any Do Not Track button be set to off by default instead of a neutral position, which would enable users to turn the signal on or off. The proposal also says that any Do Not Track mechanism should be located only in the browser setting and not through a browser "installation process or any other similar mechanism." The W3C effort, led by Ohio State University professor Peter P. Swire, is the result of two years of negotiations. However, reaching a consensus is still problematic as advertisers want the ability to keep tracking users' data while privacy advocates insist that users should be able to turn tracking off.


Towards a Quantum Internet
University of New South Wales (05/02/13)

The spin, or quantum state, of a single atom has been detected for the first time using a combined optical and electrical approach. Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the Australian National University (ANU), and the University of Melbourne used an ion implanter to shoot erbium atoms into a standard industrial silicon transistor. "This is a revolutionary new technique, and people had doubts it was possible," said UNSW professor Sven Rogge. "It is the first step towards a global quantum Internet." UNSW's Chunming Yin says the technical feat opens up the possibility of using light to couple the atoms, or qubits, together to form a quantum computer. ANU professor Matthew Sellars says the approach is a step toward connecting a solid-state quantum computer to what will be the quantum Internet. The next step would be to control the spin of the erbium atom and replicate the results using a phosphorus atom embedded in silicon.


AI Card Game Knows How to Bend the Rules
New Scientist (05/03/13) Douglas Heaven

IT University of Copenhagen researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that generates new card games from scratch. The researchers first developed a system that describes all of the variations in the rules of existing card games. The AI system searches through these possible variations, exploring new sets of rules to see if they result in a playable game. In the future, AI designers might be able to invent games on the fly, constantly making up new rules to keep the game balanced, says IT University of Copenhagen researcher Julian Togelius. He notes that automatic rule-balancing systems also could generate different rules for different players; in addition, these systems could be used to automatically generate more games like Foldit, a complex protein-folding puzzle. "This system might allow us to think up games as compelling as poker and bridge but which couldn't have been designed 100 years ago," says Imperial College London researcher Michael Cook.


UPC Develops an Advanced Traffic Management System to Reduce Costs and Pollution
Polytechnic University of Catalonia (05/02/13)

Researchers at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) have developed an information system based on intelligent data processing that is designed to improve the mobility management of people and vehicles. The researchers say the system solves problems related to traffic congestion and transport systems, energy consumption, air pollution emissions, and quality of life in cities. The system, which was developed as part of the In4Mo project, uses a combination of traditional technologies for traffic detection and new technologies for capturing vehicles equipped with electronic devices. The main goal of the In4Mo project is to develop applications that make up the nucleus of smart mobility. By combining these technologies, the system forms a technological platform that supplies broader and more precise information to traffic control centers. The techniques used by the UPC researchers also can be applied to creating dynamic models of the evolution of traffic flow to estimate, predict, and visualize the state of the road network. The researchers note the In4Mo project is designed to meet the challenges of logistics, transport, mobility, and urban traffic management.


How to Get More Followers on Twitter
Georgia Tech News (05/01/13)

Georgia Tech researchers completed a study examining 500,000 tweets over 15 months to find a set of reliable predictors for building a Twitter following. The researchers found that informational content attracts followers at a rate 30 times higher than content focused on the tweeter. It also is important to avoid negative posts such as death, unemployment, and poor health. Finally, the researchers found that the higher a Twitter user's hashtag ratio, the less likely they were to attract new followers. "For the first time, we were able to explore the relative effects of social behavior, message content, and network structure and show which of these factors has more influence on the number of Twitter followers," says Georgia Tech professor Eric Gilbert. The researchers examined the tweets of more than 500 Twitter users, and identified 2,800 terms that convey positive and negative emotions, scoring each term based on a sliding scale of positivity. Their method enabled the researchers to determine whether Twitter users who used each term gained or lost followers. "By examining multiple factors that affect tie formation and dissolution over time on Twitter, we’ve discovered information that could help technologists design and build tools that help users grow their audiences," Gilbert says.


Robotic Insects Make First Controlled Flight
Harvard Gazette (05/02/13) Caroline Perry

Harvard University robotics lab researchers, working on the RoboBee project, have demonstrated the first controlled flight of an insect-sized robot; the achievement was the culmination of more than a decade's work. The machine flaps its wings with piezoelectric actuators, while thin hinges of plastic embedded within the carbon fiber body frame serve as joints. Meanwhile, a control system operates the rotational motions in the robot, with each wing controlled independently in real time. "It's really only because of this lab's recent breakthroughs in manufacturing, materials, and design that we have even been able to try this," says Harvard professor Robert Wood. "Now that we've got this unique platform, there are dozens of tests that we're starting to do, including more aggressive control maneuvers and landing." After that, the next steps will be to integrate the parallel work of other research teams, which are working on a brain, colony coordination behavior, a power source, and other projects, until the robotic insects are fully autonomous and wireless. The researchers say the technology could be used for distributed environmental monitoring, search-and-rescue operations, or assistance with crop pollination.


Finding a Gecko in the Crowd
MIT News (05/01/13) Jennifer Chu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers led by Sai Ravela have developed SLOOP, software designed to partly automate the matching of images of animals in massive catalogs. The SLOOP system mines thousands of images using pattern-recognition algorithms to analyze features such as a specimen's stripe or spot configuration, and then identifies an average of 20 most probable matches for an individual. The system also uses feedback from online users asked to choose the most similar pair of animals so that it can reorder and pare down the list. The researchers say the combination of computer-vision algorithms and crowdsourcing enables rapid identification of image matches among thousands of photos with 97-percent accuracy. Ravela notes that most pattern-recognition algorithms lack the sophistication to parse out the complexity in animal patterning. His team has devised multiple algorithms to identify matching patterns, including some that adjust for changes in an animal's lighting, orientation, and geometry, and other algorithms that overlay images, comparing stripe or spot positioning. New Zealand's Department of Conservation currently uses SLOOP to track threatened skink populations, and the system may ultimately help researchers gain broader insights about animal behavior, such as species' migration patterns and breeding habits.


Robot Aids in Therapy for Autistic Children
Wall Street Journal (05/01/13) Shirley S. Wang

University of Notre Dame researchers will present study findings at the annual conference of the International Society for Autism Research showing promise in the use of robots for teaching social skills to autistic children. The study, involving 19 autistic children, is believed to be the largest trial to date using robots in this way. The children interacted with a two-foot-tall robot therapist that was programmed to ask novel questions and engage children in conversation. The study participants showed greater conversational improvement with the robot than with a human therapist alone, and parents reported more significant improvement at home as well. Children interacted in six sessions with the robot as well as with a human therapist, who provided instruction on specific skills when interacting with the robot, such as making eye contact or taking turns talking. Simplified social interactions with a robot might be beneficial to children with autism, who tend to be very interested in technology but find complex social interactions challenging. The researchers hope the children will carry over the social skills to interactions with people as well, rather than just interacting with the robot.


Piezoelectric 'Taxels' Convert Motion to Electronic Signals for Tactile Imaging
Georgia Tech News (04/25/13) John Toon

Georgia Tech researchers have developed arrays of piezotronic transistors that can convert mechanical motion directly into electronic controlling signals. The arrays include more than 8,000 functioning piezotronic touch-sensitive transistors, or taxels, which the researchers say could provide significant improvements in resolution, sensitivity, and active or adaptive operations compared to conventional technologies. The vertically-aligned taxels operate with two-terminal transistors, and rather than a third gate terminal to control the flow of current passing through them, taxels control the current via strain-gating. Strain-gating based on the piezotronic effect uses electrical charges generated at the Schottky contact interface by the piezoelectric effect when the nanowires are strained by the application of mechanical force. "Any mechanical motion, such as the movement of arms or the fingers of a robot, could be translated to control signals," says Georgia Tech professor Zhong Lin Wang. In the transistors, the piezoelectric charges control the flow of current through the wires just as gate voltages do in conventional three-terminal transistors. "This could be used in a broad range of areas, including robotics, MEMS, human-computer interfaces, and other areas that involve mechanical deformation," Wang says.


Cheetah-Cub Quadruped Robot Learns to Walk, Trot Using Gait Patterns From Real Animal
IEEE Spectrum (04/29/13) Jason Falconer

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed Cheetah-Cub, a robotic quadruped based on a cheetah, which they say proves that gait primitives from the motion capture of an animal can be adapted to a robot. The Cheetah-Cub uses a new approach to enable it to move like a horse. The team used motion-capture data showing joint trajectories of a horse walking, trotting, and galloping. From this data, the researchers extracted four kinematic Motion Primitives (kMPs), which are part of the robot's central pattern generator neural network, and developed short sequential gait cycles for each kMP. Finding an unexpectedly low 3-percent difference between the kMPs, the researchers say "a possible interpretation is that the kMPs extracted from walk, trot, and gallop are in fact the same set of kMPs, that together are sufficient to describe the three different gaits." A single kMP may be at each gait's core, but generating a gallop from a walking gait is impossible without values to enter into the equation, so the team used mathematical transformations to separately adapt each of the gaits to the robot.


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