Welcome to the August 23, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
NSA Gathered Thousands of Americans' Emails Before Court Ordered It to Revise its Tactics
The Washington Post (08/21/13) Ellen Nakashima
The Obama administration on Wednesday declassified a 2011 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had illegally collected up to 56,000 "wholly domestic" communications each year since 2008. In the ruling, Judge John D. Bates, the surveillance court’s chief judge at the time, sharply criticized NSA for intentionally misleading the court. "For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe," Bates wrote. "The court is troubled that the government's revelations regarding NSA's acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program." The declassification of the ruling marks the first time the government has released a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court opinion in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, which the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a year ago. The ruling was released along with several others related to NSA's collection program. NSA noted that its regular reporting process had brought the collected communications to the court's attention.
Your Future iPhone May Be Stuffed With Wax
Wired News (08/23/13) Robert McMillan
Researchers from the universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania are using wax to investigate a new kind of smartphone and tablet processor to address overheating issues related to chip speed. Michigan professor Milo Martin and his collaborators think microprocessors can achieve significant performance upgrades if they are built to make intermittent bursts of unprecedented speeds and then allowed to rest. The wax or paraffin would protect the chips from overheating during "computational sprinting" by absorbing the heat. The researchers believe computational sprinting can lead to energy savings, with Martin noting "there are actually some situations where it makes more sense to operate in sprint and rest." Although it may take five to 10 years for their model to be incorporated into cellphones, Intel engineers Per Hammarlund and Steve Gunther say computational sprinting aligns very closely with the way people use their cellphones. "You appreciate having really snappy responsive system behavior for very short bursts of time," they say. "And other than that, you really want the system to consume no power."
Internet of Things Trial Set to Transform UK Schools
V3.co.uk (08/21/13) Michael Passingham
Eight schools in the United Kingdom are a testing a technology that could lead to widespread use of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in education and progress toward the Internet of Things (IoT). Funded by the Technology Strategy Board and backed by the Distance consortium, the project will test various applications of M2M technology to determine how it could best be used in education. "We believe the IoT has captured the imagination of academia, businesses, and consumers around the world, promising to have an enormous impact on the digital economy," says Chad Jones of Distance consortium member Xively. "While Android and iOS carved a path for almost anyone to participate, many predict the Internet of things is driving an order-of-magnitude jump in the type of commercial opportunities the economy will generate." Teaching children about the IoT is critical to the creation of future problem-solving technologies, says Duncan Wilson, principal investigator of the Collaborative Research Institute sustainable cities project at Intel, another member of the Distance consortium. "The Internet of Things is the next big wave of computing," Wilson says. "It will touch more aspects of our lives and have a more profound effect on the workforce than we can begin to imagine."
Twitter Hashtags Predict Rising Tension in Egypt
New Scientist (08/21/13) Hal Hodson
Qatar Computing Research Institute scientist Ingmar Weber and colleagues have developed the Political Polarization Index, which uses Twitter to measure political tension in Egypt. The team assigned scores to Egyptian tweets between March 2012 and June 2013 based on whether users had retweeted Islamist or secular prominent figures. The team then calculated the polarity of popular hashtags by averaging their use among all Egyptian tweeters, factoring in the religious beliefs of each user. The team could then view the political disparity between the two main groups, and noted that rising political polarization on Twitter preceded actual violence. "Quite strikingly, all outbreaks of violence happened during periods where the hashtag polarity was comparatively high," the researchers say. They believe early warnings provided by social networks might help governments avoid conflict. "If governments realize that society is drifting apart, they might think of positive countermeasures," Weber says. He notes the program could be improved by tracking whether people have previously used polarizing hashtags. "If 100 users use an anti-Morsi hashtag, it might matter whether they are just 'the regular suspects' or are users who have not been politically active in the past but have now decided to express their frustration."
Computing Researchers Get 'Schooled' on Science Policy at LiSPI 2013
CCC Blog (08/19/13) Peter Harsha; Fred Schneider
The Computing Research Association’s Computing Community Consortium recently held its second Leadership in Science Policy Institute (LiSPI) workshop to educate the next generation of computing research leaders on the creation of U.S. science policy and the functioning of the government. Workshop sessions included learning about interaction with federal science agencies and the creation of new initiatives within agencies, the role of federal advisory committees, the federal budget process, supporting research in computing, and guidance on talking to policymakers. House Science, Space and Technology committee staff members Julia Warner and Dahlia Sokolov spoke about the challenges of communicating research value to lawmakers and prioritizing science investments in the current political and fiscal climate. Current and former chief technology officers at the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission, and a current White House Office of Science and Technology Policy detailee, discussed the importance of finding scientists from the computing research community to staff federal non-science agencies. Forty-three scientists and engineers from 48 universities and research organizations attended the event, up from 34 participants in the inaugural LiSPI event in 2011.
DARPA Wants Computers That Fuse With Higher Human Brain Function
Network World (08/19/13) Michael Cooney
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has put out a request for information (RFI) on how it could surpass machine learning, Bayesian methods, and graphical technology to address "extraordinarily difficult recognition problems in real time" by mimicking the human neocortex. The agency says it is seeking information that delivers new concepts and technologies for developing a cortical processor founded on hierarchical temporal memory. Among the issues the DARPA effort aims to explore is what new capabilities a cortical processor could facilitate that would lead to a new level of application performance. "Algorithms inspired by neural models, in particular neocortex, can recognize complex spatial and temporal patterns and can adapt to changing environments," DARPA says. "Consequently, these algorithms are a promising approach to data stream filtering and processing and have the potential for providing new levels of performance and capabilities for a range of data recognition problems." The RFI is part of DARPA's overarching research and development into the creation of a new type of computer similar in form and function to the mammalian brain, which would be used to build robots with intelligence equal to that of mice and cats.
Quadcopter Piloted by a Smartphone
Vienna University of Technology (08/19/13) Florian Aigner
Vienna University of Technology researchers say they have built a cost-efficient quadcopter that operates completely autonomously. A smartphone is the core element and most expensive part of the quadcopter. The smartphone's camera provides the visual data and its processor serves as the control center. The team coded the quadcopter's intelligence, which allows it to navigate, in a smartphone app, and a microcontroller adjusts the rotor speed, enabling it to fly as steadily as possible. Designed to work indoors, the quadcopter does not make use of global positioning system data, but relies entirely on visual data. In testing, the quadcopter created a map of its environment by recognizing visual codes attached to the floor and obtaining information from the codes. Once the machine has generated a virtual map of these codes, it can head for a specific known location or go on exploring areas it has not yet investigated. "In the future, the quadcopter should also be able to do without these codes," says project chief engineer Annette Mossel. "Instead, we want it to use naturally occurring reference points, which can be obtained from the camera data and also from depth sensors."
Duet for Composition and Software
The New York Times (08/18/13) Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim
The Opera of the Future group led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Tod Machover has developed technologies such as hyperinstruments that have subsequently had significant impact in various fields. For example, the hypercello Machover created for the cellist Yo-Yo Ma in the 1990s altered the instrument's sound in response to the player's movements, but observations about the musician's electrical absorption from the instrument's sensor led to "a fantastic way of measuring the relationship between a person and the physical world," Machover says. "There were about 15 patents that came out of it relating to electric field sensing." Such hyperinstruments were used in an opera that Machover's group worked on, seeking to combine the spontaneity and skill of live music with the precision of technology to create a new form of composition. The opera involved the singer being wired to sensors that read his voice, breathing, muscle tension, gestures, and galvanic skin response, feeding this data to animate robots, lighting systems, and other objects on the stage set. Opera of the Future student Elena Jessop says such technology can be applied to remote-presence applications. "If you're trying to capture something about the essence [of how people are expressing themselves,] that could be transformed into representations that could have that same sort of feeling," she notes.
Why Can't My Computer Understand Me?
The New Yorker (08/16/13) Gary Marcus
University of Toronto computer scientist Hector Levesque recently presented a paper at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence highlighting the flaws in artificial intelligence. Although Alan Turing's renowned Turing test has been accepted for years as a measure of computer intelligence, Levesque says computers can easily bluff their way to success in the test. Rather than performing tricks to pass an arbitrary test, AI should focus on building true intelligence, Levesque says. He suggests an alternative test called the Winograd Schemas that he developed with his colleagues, which asks questions that are simple for an intelligent person but extremely challenging for a computer. For example, the test might ask, "Sam tried to paint a picture of shepherds with sheep, but they ended up looking more like golfers. What looked like golfers?" This type of question, impossible to answer using a search engine, requires knowledge of social interaction, common sense, and complex language understanding. The field of AI is distracted by "serial silver bulletism," or always looking to the next big thing, instead of performing the necessary work of unraveling the complexity of ordinary human intelligence, Levesque says. "There is a lot to be gained by recognizing more fully what our own research does not address, and being willing to admit that other...approaches may be needed," he says.
Reducing Computer Viruses in Health Networks
University of Michigan News Service (08/16/13) Nicole Casal Moore
University of Michigan professors Kevin Fu and Michael Bailey are part of a national team aimed at strengthening the cybersecurity of hospital IT networks and medical devices, which are increasingly the targets of computer viruses and other malware. The five-year Trustworthy Health and Wellness project received $10 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation, as one of three cybersecurity awards worth a total of almost $20 million. Fu and Bailey are developing methods to scientifically study the extent of hospital network malware, because they say high-quality, reproducible measurements are currently lacking. "Malicious software, or malware, can interrupt the function of medical devices, affecting the quality of patient care," Fu says. "By increasing the quality of the science, we seek to create more meaningful discussions about risks and benefits of adapting hospital networks to the threat of malware." However, solutions for preventing malware are challenging because they can introduce new problems; a deluge of passwords, for example, could slow clinical workflow and raise the possibility of human error. In addition, the project aims to improve authentication and privacy tools and establish trustworthy control of medical devices, as well as effective methods to detect malware.
Open Source Project Aims to Give Vision to Hobbyists' Robots
IDG News Service (08/16/13) Agam Shah
Charmed Labs is working with Carnegie Mellon University's robotics department to give hobbyists' robots basic vision. The researchers are developing Pixy, a camera sensor board that can detect, identify, and track the movement of specific objects, recognize them by specific color markings or codes, and then report them back to a computer. Pixy can be taught what to recognize based on color codes, and algorithms for that can be programmed into the board. Software called PixyMon processes the algorithm and visual information received from Pixy and projects the image and objects onto a screen. "If you're willing to color tags and objects that you're interested in...this is a great sensor," says Charmed Labs founder Rich LeGrand. "It'll find these objects, it'll find hundreds of them, and it will give you the results back." The robot can transmit the results back to a computer via multiple output mechanisms, and LeGrand says the hardware can process images with a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels at 50 frames per second. He also notes that it is possible to track basic images in real time, and the image processing does not burden the central processing unit.
Millions of Tracks at the Fingertips of Music Researchers
Academy of Finland (08/15/13)
Researchers at the Academy of Finland's Finnish Center of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Jyvaskyla have developed a method that enables the use of semantic information on digital music services to understand the processes behind expressions of musical moods. In addition, the team devised a semantic-modeling-based method to forecast listener ratings of musical moods with online data. Previous research has relied on a data pool of just several hundred tracks, but the new research significantly expands the volume of data. The team created the model using tags for more than 1 million tracks on the Last.fm service, about a quarter of which contained mood tags, such as powerful or happy. Participants in a listening test then rated moods in 600 tracks from different genres, and the ratings were compared to the model's semantic estimates. "When receiving an audio file, a computer application could identify the moods expressed by music, genre, and performer, or generate automatically a playlist for a certain person in a certain mood or for training music at gym," says the Academy of Finland's Pasi Saari.
Regional Concentrations of Scientists and Engineers in the United States
NCSES InfoBrief (08/13) Beethika Khan; Jaquelina Falkenheim
U.S. science and engineering (S&E) employment is geographically concentrated in a small number of states and a few major metropolitan areas in those states, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey. California, Texas, and New York collectively comprised more than 25 percent of all U.S. S&E employment. About 5.7 million workers were employed in S&E occupations across the United States in 2011, and nearly 75 percent of these employees had a college or higher degree. Nationally, one out of two individuals in an S&E occupation worked in the nine states with the largest S&E employment concentration. On the state level, S&E employment intensity was greatest in Washington, D.C., followed by Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Colorado, and Washington state. The areas surrounding Santa Clara and Los Angeles were the two local areas with the largest S&E employment, while areas around New York City, Houston, Denver, and San Diego had the next-largest S&E employment concentrations. There was an abundance of computer and math sciences jobs in regions with high levels of S&E employment, especially in the vicinities of New York City, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles. Large concentrations of engineering jobs also were in areas with high levels of computer and math sciences occupations.
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