Welcome to the July 1, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Detroit, Embracing New Auto Technologies, Seeks App Builders
The New York Times (06/30/13) Jaclyn Trop
The increasing use of computer technologies in automobiles has turned Detroit into a growing center for information technology employment. The Michigan Department of Labor projects that jobs in software development for applications will grow 23.5 percent this year from 2010 levels, and software development for systems software will grow 36.9 percent. The demand for in-vehicle applications is a "substantial job generator with high-end pay," according to University of Michigan researcher Donald R. Grimes. So far, the jobs are mostly attracting people who already live in the area, but local businesses and government agencies want to recruit developers without ties to the region. "In general, Michigan is not perceived as the hippest place for young technology geeks," Grimes says. Although cars have had computer-controlled systems for years, software innovation is in its early stages and there will be opportunities for workers to stand out. "This is a newfound field full of features and functionality that developers are intrigued by," says General Motors' Nick Pudar. He says the new technology coming to cars could radically change the driver's experience. For example, new apps will enable drivers to interact with their vehicles both from inside and remotely. Cars also are increasingly relying on computers and sensors.
MIT Researchers Can See Through Walls Using 'Wi-Vi'
IDG News Service (06/27/13) Stephen Lawson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are developing Wi-Vi, a system that uses wireless Wi-Fi technology to track moving objects through walls. MIT professor Dina Katabi says the technology could be built into handheld devices and used in search-and-rescue missions and law enforcement. Katabi notes that consumers might use the technology to see if they are being followed. Although Wi-Vi currently has very low resolution, the researchers are working on a higher resolution version that would enable it to show recognizable faces. Wi-Vi works by sending Wi-Fi radio waves through a barrier and measuring the way the waves bounce back, similar to the way radar and sonar work, according to Katabi. Wi-Vi transmits two Wi-Fi signals, one of which is the inverse of the other. When one signal hits a stationary object, the other intercepts it. However, due to the way the signals are encoded, they do not cancel each other out, which makes the reflections from a moving person visible despite there being a wall between that person and the Wi-Vi device. Although the technology could raise privacy concerns, Katabi notes that, "like all technologies in the world, it depends on us how we use them."
Siri’s Creators Demonstrate an Assistant That Takes the Initiative
Technology Review (06/27/13) Rachel Metz
SRI International has created a predictive assistant called Bright that reduces cognitive overload by providing specific information at the right time. Bright's first deployments will be for high-stress jobs with significant data requirements, such as emergency response and network security workers. However, Bright's creators hope to broaden its use to include a range of office workers and students, with the technology taking the form of software in laptops and smartphones. SRI senior computer scientist Grit Denker says Bright is a cognitive desktop that understands what the user is doing and can be used collaboratively with multiple users. The system currently has three cameras facing the user and a monitor that shows where the user is looking. In addition, Bright displays a real-time log of every action the user takes and a computer desktop of files and folders. When a user opens an email, for example, Bright records the user's actions on a side monitor, including the fact that the message was opened and the time spent viewing it. Bright anticipates what information will be needed next and speeds response time. SRI researchers currently are focusing on improving the cognitive indexing that connects user clues to predict which data is important.
Feature Stops Apps From Stealing Phone Users' Passwords
Duke University News (06/26/13) Ashley Yeager
Duke University researchers have developed ScreenPass, a program that adds new features to an Android phone's operating system to prevent malicious apps from stealing a user's password. "The problem right now is that users have no idea what happens to the passwords they give to their apps," says Duke researcher Landon Cox. ScreenPass provides a special-purpose keyboard for users to securely enter sensitive text such as passwords. An area below the keyboard enables users to tell ScreenPass where they want their text sent, and then the program tracks the data and notifies the user if an app tries to send the password to the wrong place. ScreenPass guarantees that users always enter passwords through the secure keyboard by using computer vision to periodically scan the screen for untrusted keyboards. "If a malicious app can trick a user into inputting their password through a fake keyboard, then there is no way to guarantee that an app's password is sent only to the right servers," Cox says. During testing, ScreenPass detected attack keyboards that tried to avoid detection by changing the font, color, and blurriness of letters on the keys.
SDN Awards Seek University, Research Potential
InformationWeek (06/26/13) David F. Carr
Eight networking research teams will have the opportunity to demonstrate how software-defined networking (SDN) can solve modern challenges for research, education, and business networks with the acceptance of their project proposals to the 2013 Internet2 Innovative Application Awards program. The initiative is designed to generate examples of new and advanced applications that can help transform Internet2 campus research, science, and education by exploiting the SDN and 100G capabilities of the Internet2 Innovation Platform. One winning proposal from North Carolina State University's William J. Brockelsby is network administration control, a concept for delivering an efficient, customized bring-your-own-device experience to campus users or visitors. The user can be securely confirmed to access the enterprise network, and directed to the most relevant digital resources according to the user's role, work, and/or field. Meanwhile, black box congestion control from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Mo Dong proposes enabling individual big data senders to monitor and diagnose shifting network conditions, optimize and control network characteristics, and fulfill specific data movement needs. The SDN-based application for efficient video streaming from Georgia Tech's Rasha El-Jaroudi seeks to facilitate seamless video streaming by supporting better control via a holistic view of network conditions and a programmable interface to an SDN controller.
NSF and Mozilla Announce Breakthrough Applications on a Faster, Smarter Internet of the Future
National Science Foundation (06/25/13) Lisa-Joy Zgorski
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and Mozilla unveiled 22 winning applications for the open innovation challenge Mozilla Ignite at the recent US Ignite Next-Generation Application Summit. The competition sought innovative apps that run on ultra-fast, programmable networks, focusing on healthcare, energy, transportation, and education. Gigabit fiber enables data transfer three to 10 times faster than today's infrastructures, expanding the limits of app design. One of the winning applications, Real Time Emergency Response, enables emergency operators and responders to process multiple, real-time data streams from mobile phones and social media into forms that are useful for responders. The app, which will target agencies such as the National Guard, eventually should integrate street-level and highway cameras into the system to improve monitoring capabilities. Another winning application is the Collaborative Science Learning Environment (CIZZLE), which offers an interactive, video game learning environment for children. "CIZZLE stands to transform the way students all across the country learn," says NSF's Suzi Iacono. "Together with the 21 other exciting new tools spotlighted here today, it demonstrates how next-generation gigabit apps offer the potential for significant positive impact across all sectors of society."
Mathematicians Think Like Machines for Perfect Proofs
New Scientist (06/25/13) Jacob Aron
A team of mathematicians led by Vladimir Voevodsky with Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study have devised a new mathematical framework that forces people to think more like machines to check perfect proofs in collaboration with computers. The team's manual explains the use of type theory as an alternative mathematical basis. Type theory stipulates that all proofs must describe how to mathematically construct the object they concern, which is the opposite of set theory. Once mathematicians have completed this task, their proof would automatically be supported by unshakable computational checks. It is impossible to write an incorrect proof, assuming the underlying code is defect-free, along with the automated proof assistants that verify everything as the mathematician goes along. Voevodsky's team also says it is far easier to check the code than the entire proof in most instances. Not only does the new framework make proof-checking easier, it also is a move toward computers that one day could execute mathematics by themselves, which might potentially clear a path toward more advanced forms of artificial intelligence (AI). "My expectation is that all these separate, limited AI successes, like driving a car and playing chess, will eventually converge back, and then we're going to get computers that are really very powerful," says project collaborator Andrej Bauer.
Artificial Intellience in Mental Healthcare
Armed with Science (06/25/13)
The mental healthcare field is now looking to use artificial intelligent (AI) agents to provide training, consultation, and treatment services. The application of AI technologies in mental healthcare has led to the "super clinician" concept, in which an artificial intelligent agent system can be either a virtual reality simulation or a humanoid robot. Such a system would integrate technologies and capabilities such as natural-language processing, computer vision, facial recognition, olfactory sensors, and even thermal imaging to detect temperature changes in patients. Moreover, the system would have access to patient medical records and all available digitized medical knowledge. The concept is not so far-fetched, considering the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing a system that can detect psychological states, and IBM is working on a version of the Watson supercomputer that has learned the entire medical literature. Still, there are questions whether humans can make caring and empathetic connections with AI technology and whether they will be suspicious of the motives of the systems.
Visual Language Will Result in Better Services
The VISUAL research project, led by SINTEF ICT's Ragnhild Halvorsrud, aims to develop a new visual language for service providers in collaboration with Halogen, Linkoping University, FINN.no, and DIPS. The language is comprised of symbols and diagrams, and it begins by studying the points of contact between customer and service provider, generating a graphic description of sequences and time flow. The goal is to simplify communication between designers, decision-makers, product owners, technologists, and everyone participating in the service's development. The project's initial phase involves researchers defining what words will be used to function as a central terminology and defining sequences and results during customer-provider interactions. They also are creating virtual service models and scenarios that can identify nuances within the customer experience for use in training, and as an aid to developing and assessing the language. The visual language's most vital practical value may be in its ability to visualize time-flow from the customer's perspective, so that it becomes easier to discover illogical transitions in services and improve customer satisfaction and profitability.
The Tao of Facebook: 'Social Graph' Takes New Path
Wired News (06/25/13) Cade Metz
Facebook has developed a system called The Association of Objects (TAO) that facilitates the balance between data stored in MySQL and more frequently accessed data stored in Memcached. Most data is stored in MySQL, but Memcached is used to store data that needs to load quickly in the memory subsystems of servers. Engineers that maintain the social networking giant have struggled with balancing MySQL and Memcached, and TAO was introduced several years ago to make that process easier. "It was important to build something that would help Facebook engineers move fast," says Facebook software engineer Mark Marchukov. "Before, engineers had to understand the details of how both the cache and the MySQL data stores operated in order to write efficient code, and that slowed down the rate of development. With TAO, we put in an API [application programming interface] that they could use without thinking about the details." In addition to the TAO interface, Facebook rebuilt the software behind the API. The company has tailored its system for the specific data structures that comprise Facebook's social graph of interconnected people and information.
New Study Suggests Voynich Text Is Not a Hoax
Phys.Org (06/24/13) Bob Yirka
University of Manchester researchers Marcelo Montemurro and Damian H. Zanette have published a paper that uses information theory to suggest that the Voynich manuscript, a text written on medieval parchment that has remained a linguistic and cryptologic enigma, is in fact authentic. The manuscript uses an unknown script system, but displays basic statistical patterns that are similar to those present in real languages. In the past, some researchers have believed the manuscript, reportedly discovered in an Italian Monastery in 1912, to be a forgery. However, the new research shows a complex organization in the distribution of words, consistent with real language sequences. The researchers assigned modern language letters to characters to enable algorithm use, and examined patterns of words in the text. One type of pattern, an entropy, enables a computer to compare documents and produce a number representing the text's complexity. The Voynich manuscript ranked a score of 805, compared to 728 for English and 285 for a Fortran program. In addition, the researchers say the manuscript conforms to Zipf's law, which states that words in real languages are inversely proportional to their rank in a frequency table.
Google Creates Developers Cloud Playground for Code Testing
eWeek (06/26/13) Todd R. Weiss
Google has created a Cloud Playground environment in which developers can quickly try out new ideas without having to commit to setting up a local development environment that is safe for testing coding experiments outside of the production infrastructure. The Cloud Playground is an open source project that includes mimic, a regular Python App Engine app that serves as a development server, and bliss, a browser-based code editor that enables users to edit code in the mimic virtual file system. Earlier this year, Google opened its Google Maps application programming interface (API) to developers so they can build consumer and business applications. By using the Maps API, developers can now use Google's cloud infrastructure to add their data on top of a Google Map and share that custom presentation with other users. Google also recently created the new Mobile Backend Starter, which enables developers to focus on building and selling their apps by automating the back end of apps development.
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