Welcome to the May 10, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
W3C Proceeds With Web Video Encryption Despite Opposition
CNet (05/09/13) Stephen Shankland
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is going ahead with its Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) technology despite opposition from groups such as the Free Software Foundation and Electronic Frontier Foundation. The technology will enable companies to stream encrypted video using Web sites. Three years ago, players in the entertainment industry approached W3C to discuss the technology as Microsoft helped develop it and Google built the specification into Chrome. EME provides a standard mechanism that lets browsers use a plug-in for encryption and digital rights management rather than provide those functions itself. However, the Free Software Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation say EME goes against the W3C's principles of openness and royalty-free standards. W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe says his group believes some standardization and openness is better than none, otherwise programmers would have to depend on proprietary plug-ins or apps that do not use the Web. "There is going to be protected content on the Web," Jaffe says. "We have one Web with as much commonality as possible where one is able to access free content as well as protected content."
Intel: Keeping Up With Moore's Law Is Becoming a Challenge
IDG News Service (05/08/13) Agam Shah
Intel will continue to keep pace with Moore's Law for now, but as chips continue to shrink, maintaining the pace of progress is growing more difficult, says Intel's William Holt. Intel has used Moore's Law as a baseline for decades to increase transistors and make chips smaller and more cost-effective, resulting in faster and more efficient computers. "Are we closer to an end than we were five years ago? Of course," Holt says. "But are we to the point where we can realistically predict that end, we don't think so." He notes that manufacturing is more complicated with smaller chips, which are subject to a wider class of defects as sensitivities and minor variations increase, requiring extreme attention to detail. "As we make things smaller, the effort that it takes to make them actually work is increasingly difficult," Holt says. However, he says Intel has discovered new tools and innovations to make new generations of chips possible. Meanwhile, other companies, such as IBM, are researching ways of extending Moore's Law, and the U.S. National Science Foundation is funding a research effort called Science and Engineering Beyond Moore's Law, which focuses on manufacturing, nanotechnology, multicore chips, and emerging technologies.
New Tool Could Free Syrian Rebels From Reliance on State Internet
NextGov.com (05/08/13) Joseph Marks
Syrian rebels may soon have a tool that can bypass a state-imposed Internet blackout, according to Open Technology Institute director Sascha Meinrath. The institute is working with Commotion, a U.S. government-funded project to create mesh networks of local Internet connections that do not rely on external Internet service providers. Commotion developers are asking the hacker community to help identify security vulnerabilities during several ongoing beta tests, Meinrath says. The institute expects to release a non-beta version of the software by the end of 2013 or in the first quarter of 2014. "It’s solely for an overabundance of caution that we really do not recommend people use this now in places where their lives are on the line," Meinrath says. Beta versions of Commotion have been deployed in several small networks in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in the United States. The system also can enable information such as emails and text messages to travel directly between members of the network instead of moving through the larger Internet.
The Man Behind the Google Brain: Andrew Ng and the Quest for the New AI
Wired News (05/07/13) Daniela Hernandez
Stanford University professor Andrew Ng, believing that true progress in artificial intelligence (AI) is attainable within his lifetime, leads a new field of computer science research known as deep learning, which aims to create machines that can process data in the same manner as the human brain. Deep learning aims to blend computer science and neuroscience, which has long been a stumbling block for AI. “I’ve seen a surprisingly large gulf between the engineers and the scientists,” Ng says. A turning point for Ng came seven years ago when he read a theory that human intelligence stems from a single algorithm. When Ng was in school, he believed real advances in AI were out of reach due to the dominant theory at the time that human intelligence derived from thousands of simple agents working together. At that time engineers thought real AI required the creation and integration of thousands of individual computing modules. Deep learning focuses on developing neural networks that mirror human brain activity, gathering and reacting to information to build an understanding. Beyond Ng's deep learning, AI projects are emerging worldwide, along with an increased focus on understanding the brain.
For Young Students, a C# Coding Workshop for Kids
Computerworld (05/09/13) Matt Hamblen
Two Utah-based programmers from TeachingKidsProgramming.org recently held workshops at seven schools around the state to expose students and teachers to C# programming. The curriculum is based on a free online curriculum that the programmers developed for Pluralsight, and was originally intended for use by professional programmers to share online with their own children at home. "In the U.S., with some exceptions, programming is only introduced in high school as an Advanced Placement course and very few students see programming courses until college," says former Microsoft developer Lynn Langit. The programmers have taken their coursework to other countries and have developed a teaching framework based on experiential learning. "We teach programming almost like an art class, and students create their first executable program in three minutes," Langit says. Meanwhile, the U.S. National Science Foundation has funded research into the development of ScratchJr, a new version of the programming language designed specifically for early childhood education. Having an "approach with volunteers and teachers working with small groups of students to form a community is another great way to get programming into the education system, especially if it's difficult to get programming classes into a school curriculum," says Brown University's Wendy Drexler.
An Expedition Into the Programmable City
CORDIS News (05/08/13)
The European Union is funding SOFTCITY, a project that will study how software impacts daily life in cities. SOFTCITY researchers note that software is now deeply and pervasively embedded in the systems and infrastructure as well as the management and governance of cities. The SOFTCITY project will launch in June 2013 under the direction of National University of Ireland professor Robert Michael Kitchin. Researchers will examine how software underpins smart technologies and infrastructures, such as smart buildings, intelligent transport utility systems, dense telematics, and informatics infrastructures. They also will study the generation and analysis of big data, and focus on understanding, managing, working, and living in the city. In addition, the team will consider how software is used to regulate and govern city life, how the geography and political economy of software production is organized, and how software transforms the spatial behavior of residents. The study could fill a gap in social science research and drive thinking on a new era of programmable urbanism.
Expired Emails Provide Easy Route to Facebook Hacking
New Scientist (05/08/13) Paul Marks
Online services that recycle old email addresses could expose people to hacking on Facebook, according to security researchers at Rutgers University. The team focused on Microsoft Hotmail, and was able to gain access to 15 Facebook accounts, before halting its experiment due to concerns about ethical dilemmas and potential legal problems. Microsoft retires unused Hotmail accounts after 270 days of inactivity, and reassigns them to new users who request them. Attackers can send a test message and they probably have a viable target if it bounces back saying "mailbox unavailable." Moreover, importing Facebook contacts into Windows Live Messenger makes this easier because it automatically tells a user whose addresses have expired. Attackers can sign up for Hotmail, ask to be assigned the address and reactivate it, enter the address into the Facebook login screen and opt for "forgotten password" to trigger Facebook to send an email to the reactivated email address, giving them the opportunity to reset the password and gain full control of the account. The researchers say one million Facebook accounts could be vulnerable.
Helping People Through the Decision-Making Process Using a Web-Based Application
National Science Foundation (05/07/13)
A system designed by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Ali Abbas aims to help people make decisions through feedback provided by a social media website. His research led to a startup site, www.ahoona.com, with a software package of decision-making tools and templates. Users can opt to receive feedback privately from friends or publicly via the public feature. Web-based decision-making software will analyze the information and offer suggestions. Abbas breaks down decisions into three constituent elements: The different or alternative actions we can take, what information we know to make informed decisions, and our preferences. Other contributing factors the system analyzes include "which decision we are really facing, as well as the logic used to make the decision, and the decision-maker, whose alternatives, information, and preferences are incorporated," Abbas notes. He says the focus of his research is "capturing peoples' preferences over multiple attributes." Abbas stresses that the online system, developed with a U.S. National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development award, will offer "a way to analyze the recommendations that people give you that will be relevant to your daily life."
New Techniques Behind Energy's Plan for Exascale Computing
Government Computer News (05/07/13) John II Breeden
Increasingly fast supercomputers are emerging as application needs drive advances in processing capability, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) hopes to have an exaflop supercomputer as early as 2018. Currently, DOE's Titan supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is capable of 20 petaflops, and while the exaflop goal seems aggressive, the project's team believes its methodical design approach makes it attainable. Titan's design combines central processing units (CPUs) and graphical processing units (GPUs) into one computing architecture. CPUs have hard-wired functions that enable greater efficiency in desktop and workstation environments, but because they are often not used, significant computing power is wasted in a typical supercomputer setup that only contains CPUs. By contrast, GPUs are primarily blank slates that can utilize data parallelism, so using both CPUs and GPUs enables CPUs to drive the GPU tasks and be available when needed. However, the next stage of supercomputing power will require novel ideas and new architecture, and DOE is funding five projects to examine various aspects of supercomputing, including processing, storage, software, and cooling. The agency hopes the additional computing power will provide answers to questions that are too complicated for Titan, specifically in weapons research.
More Than a Good Eye: Carnegie Mellon Robot Uses Arms, Location and More to Discover Objects
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (05/06/13) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a two-armed, mobile robot that uses color video, a Kinect depth camera, and non-visual information to find more than 100 objects in a home-like laboratory. The robot is part of the Lifelong Robotic Object Discovery (LROD) project. The researchers previously built digital models and images of objects and loaded them into the memory of the Home-Exploring Robot Butler (HERB). However, with the team's implementation of LROD, the robot now can discover these objects on its own. As the robot uses its domain knowledge, it can more easily determine what is and is not an object. The researchers found that adding domain knowledge to the video input almost tripled the number of objects HERB could discover and reduced computer-processing time by a factor of 190. Finding and understanding objects in places filled with hundreds or thousands of things will be a critical ability once robots begin functional in the home and expanding their workplace role. Depth measurements from the robot's Kinect sensors were especially important, because they provided three-dimensional shape data that is highly discriminative for household items. The researchers say HERB and other robots eventually could use the Internet to create an even richer understanding of objects.
The Mobile Telephones of the Future
Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany) (05/02/13) Christian Meier
The Technical University of Darmstadt's Future Internet research cluster has generated a research roadmap incorporating visions of the future and defining the necessary technological prerequisites. The research cluster hypothesizes that the displays of future mobile telephones will merge the virtual and physical worlds. Future mobile telephones will need large displays, but also must be capable of being shrunk to the size of a pencil. "Users will have their hands full simultaneously manipulating the display and the telephone’s controls," says Darmstadt professor Max Muhlhauser. Future mobile phone networks will have to be capable of handling much higher transmission rates than conventional systems, according to the researchers. The networks also will have to be more flexible in dealing with variations in signal levels. However, one of the key problems for future mobile phones is that "the security infrastructure is currently housed in insecure mobile telephones," Muhlhauser notes. He says a tiny nanocomputer, embedded in a user's ring, could be used to manage passwords and provide other personal security applications.
New Activities of the Federal Big Data Initiative
CCC Blog (05/02/13) Shar Steed
The U.S. Federal Big Data Initiative, now in its second year, has launched several new activities with the goal of addressing the challenges and opportunities of big data. Federal agencies also are launching programs that use cutting-edge technologies to analyze and extract useful knowledge from big data for the benefit of society. "As we enter the second year of the Big Data Initiative, the Obama administration is encouraging multiple stakeholders, including federal agencies, private industry, academia, state and local government, nonprofits, and foundations to develop and participate in big data initiatives across the country," according to an Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) blog post. "Of particular interest are partnerships designed to advance core big data technologies; harness the power of big data to advance national goals such as economic growth, education, health, and clean energy; use competitions and challenges; and foster regional innovation." The NITRD Big Data Senior Steering Group and OSTP recently held a big data workshop and the Computing Community Consortium is working with OSTP on future events that will include industry, academia, and government in big data initiatives.
Controlling Robots With Your Thoughts
SINTEF (05/03/13) Ase Dragland
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and SINTEF are developing ways of controlling robots using a person's thoughts and body movements. "The replacement of graspers and the robot's guidance program is a complex process, and we want to make this simpler," says SINTEF's Ingrid Schjolberg. "We want to be able to program robots more intuitively and not just in the traditional way using a panel with buttons pressed by an operator." The researchers have trained the robots to imitate human movements with a system that involves guiding the robot with a Kinect camera. The camera has built-in algorithms that can trace the movements of a person's hand. All the researchers have to do is "to transpose these data to define the position we want the robot to assume, and set up a communications system between the sensors in the camera and the robot," says NTNU's Singe Moe. "In this way the robot receives a reference along the lines of 'we want you to move over here,' and an in-built regulator then computes how it can achieve the movement and how much electricity the motor requires to carry the movement out."
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