Welcome to the August 26, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
SSDs Still Maturing, New Memory Tech Still 10 Years Away
IDG News Service (08/26/13) Agam Shah
Solid-state drive (SSD) technology continues to evolve and it will be more than 10 years before it is replaced by new memory devices, according to speakers and attendees at the recent Hot Chips conference. They said SSDs are becoming more attractive as NAND flash gets faster and cheaper, because the technology can be used as both a RAM or hard drive alternative. "It's going to be a long time until NAND flash runs out of steam," says analyst Jim Handy. The capacity of SSDs is growing as NAND flash geometrics get smaller, so scaling down flash will become difficult, which will increase the need for a new form of non-volatile memory that does not rely on transistors. NAND flash will likely be replaced by 2023 or beyond, according to Handy. Meanwhile, SSDs are poised for widespread enterprise adoption as the technology becomes more efficient and more reliable. The smaller size of SSDs also can provide more storage for fewer servers, which could cut licensing costs, according to Handy. However, he cautions that with every process shrink, the endurance of flash may drop, so steps need to be taken to preserve durability.
Ford Studying Space Robots for Vehicle Communications Apps
PCMag.com (08/22/13) Adario Strange
The way robots on the International Space Station communicate with Earth will be the focus of a major research study by Ford. Over the next three years, Ford will work with St. Petersburg Polytechnic University and use telematics research to develop advanced vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Robots to be involved in the study will include the JUSTIN Humanoid, the EUROBOT Ground Prototype, and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Robonaut R2. The analysis will help reveal which networks are best for delivering certain messages and are the best fallback options for particular scenarios. "In a crash, for example, a vehicle could have the option to communicate an emergency through a [dedicated short-range communications], [Long Term Evolution], or a mesh network based on the type of signal, speed, and robustness required to reach emergency responders as quickly as possible," says Ford technical leader Oleg Gusikhin. Ford also wants to improve the overall reliability of vehicle-to-cloud and vehicle-to-infrastructure systems.
Twitter 'Joke Bots' Shame Human Sense of Humor
Wired News (08/22/13) Klint Finley
Hackers Darius Kazemi and Joel McCoy have designed two Twitter bots that generate phrases that are funny by virtue of not being particularly funny, for the purpose of poking fun at human tweeters' own attempts at humor. McCoy's @ilikelikeilike bot produces sayings such as "I like my lovers like I like my logic: odd, coherent, not elementary," while Kazemi's @amiritebot makes jokes like "New Music? More like Canoe Music, amirite?" "I'm interested in how people are often dumber and not funnier than computers," Kazemi says. "I throw these algorithms together in just a couple hours." There have been some unexpected quirks in the Twitter bots' development, with Kazemi noting that his bots still manage to produce dirty jokes despite a list of offensive words that they are barred from using. McCoy believes automated joke machines could be used to comment critically on all kinds of content created by people, such as news headlines and elevator pitches. "The general decline in voice and style makes it very easy to make something that at least in passing could plausibly be the thing that it purports to be," he says. "I think [bots] could be applied to making fun of how lazy so many things are."
As Tennis Stats Proliferate, Software Tries to Make Sense of It All
New York Times (08/21/13) Ken Belson
IBM researchers have developed SlamTracker, software that sifts through 20 years of data to predict how tennis players could perform under various circumstances. Since 2011, SlamTracker has provided TV announcers with specific statistical talking points, known as Keys to the Match, to refer to before and during tennis matches. The keys are updated during matches to track any shift in momentum, and they correlate well with the final outcome, says IBM's John Kent. The findings are based on more than 8,000 matches IBM has cataloged over the past eight years at the four Grand Slam events. In total, the Keys to the Match are based on more than 41 million data points, including scores, match duration, winners, serve speed, number and types of shots, and serve percentages. "We've come up with a way to use the analytics to inform the fan," Kent says. Fans at home can gain access to much of this information on their mobile devices and home computers. "There is a constant desire for the fan to have more and more information and make it bite-size," says the United States Tennis Association's Nicole Jeter West. This year, SlamTracker has been expanded to include a social sentiment function so fans can see what other fans are talking about.
A Printing Process to Make Wall-Sized Displays
Technology Review (08/22/13) Mike Orcutt
University of California, Berkeley researchers modified a conventional printing technique to develop a way to quickly and inexpensively make uniform arrays of high-performing transistors out of carbon nanotubes on flexible plastic sheets. The researchers say their technique could clear the path to creating a tool for manufacturing large-area, low-power sensor arrays and displays. The team, led by professor Ali Javey, created the first fully printed carbon nanotube transistor arrays that also demonstrate consistently high performance, which is a significant advance toward roll-to-roll manufacturing of such devices. The process enabled the team to produce transistor arrays with much higher electron mobility than previous printed carbon nanotube transistors, which makes the transistors more efficient and is critical for displays because less voltage is needed for the current that runs organic light-emitting diodes. The process "holds a lot of promise for very large-area displays--covering an entire wall with a display or a sensor array, for example," Javey says. "If you are dealing with such large areas, in terms of manufacturing cost, it's just not feasible to use conventional-based processing."
NASA to Test Laser Communications Link With New Lunar Mission
IDG News Service (08/22/13) Martyn Williams
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission on September 6 will test a new laser communications system that could eventually transmit high-definition three-dimensional (3D) video signals from space. "We'd like to be able to send high-resolution images and movies and 3D even from satellites that not only orbit the Earth, but also from probes that will go to the moon and beyond," says LADEE mission manager Don Cornwell. "Communicating with radio waves has served us well for the last 50 years, but we now have the technology to use light waves to communicate more data." The system works by sending a laser from a ground station to the satellite when it is in orbit around the moon and visible from Earth. The laser beam will scan the sky and illuminate the spacecraft, at which point the spacecraft will send its own laser toward the ground station and the two lasers will connect, enabling communication. Upstream data rates from the Earth to the spacecraft are expected to be 20 Mbps, while downstream rates are projected at 622 Mbps.
New Technology Protects Against Password Theft and Phishing Attacks
Royal Holloway, University of London (08/21/13)
Scientists from University of London's Royal Holloway say they can protect Internet users from phishing attacks with a new system called Uni-IDM. The technology is designed to create electronic identity cards for each website visited by an Internet user. The cards are securely stored, and owners click on the card when they want to log back in. The data will only be sent to the authentic website. A key feature of the system is that it is able to recognize the increasing number of websites that offer more secure log-in systems and offer people a helpful and uniform way of using the sites. In particular, the technology could serve as a more secure method for Internet users at home. "We have known for a long time that the username and password system is problematic and very insecure, proving a headache for even the largest websites," says Royal Holloway professor Chris Mitchell. However, he observes that "username and password remains the dominant technology, and while large corporations have been able to employ more secure methods, attempts to provide homes with similar protection have been unsuccessful, except in a few cases such as online banking. The hope is that our technology will finally make it possible to provide more sophisticated technology to protect all Internet users."
Silicon Valley Seeks to Translate the World
PRI's The World (08/20/13) Alison van Diggelen
Projects at Google and SRI International seek to improve machine translation technologies, with Google researchers developing translation software. The software lets users access Web pages in more than 70 languages and produce instant translations on smartphones of text, speech, and photos of textual content. Google team leader Josh Estelle says the goal of the project is to organize the world's information so that it is universally accessible and useful, via statistical machine translation. This is a formidable challenge given the numerous idioms, subtleties, accents, dialects, and ambiguities within language, says Google's Roya Soleimani. Estelle says the mathematical algorithms are applied toward processing the data and ensuring that "we pull out the nuggets of truth, the good pieces of translation." Meanwhile, SRI researchers led by Kristin Precoda are striving to teach computers to learn from mistakes and request clarification, and their work has yielded a military smartphone app that can translate live between people talking in English and the Afghan tongue of Pashto. Precoda says the overarching goal of the project is to make sure the app's translations are harmless. "In military situations, medical situations, a poor translation can really do a lot of damage," she notes.
Can an AI Get Into the University of Tokyo?
IEEE Spectrum (08/21/13) Eliza Strickland
Researchers at Japan's National Institute of Informatics (NII) are attempting to create an artificial intelligence (AI) program capable of passing school entrance exams. Its trial will start with the standardized test administered to all secondary school students, and then follow with the more rigorous University of Tokyo (Todai) exam. "We can compare the current state-of-the-art AI technology with 18-year-old students" by having the program answer real questions from the tests, says NII professor Noriko Arai. The Todai Robot will use machine-learning and natural-language processing tools currently under development at NII, and it can simulate the scenario presented in a given question to arrive at the correct answer when it is equipped with a set of rules to follow. NII professor Yusuke Miyao notes that the AI especially excels at answering history questions due to its natural-language processing capabilities. Although Miyao says the program can determine answers by searching a database that includes textbooks and Wikipedia, it still must comprehend semantic language and make the proper inferences. IBM researcher Jennifer Chu-Carroll says if the NII researchers invent an AI that can apply its natural-language processing skills to both math problems and history questions, they will "advance the state of natural-language understanding."
The Walls Have Ears: Princeton Researchers Develop Walls That Can Listen, and Talk
Princeton University (08/20/13) John Sullivan
The realization of new devices such as structural monitors for roads and bridges and concealed in-building communications systems could be helped by Princeton University researchers' successful incorporation of ultrathin radios on plastic sheets, which can be applied to walls and other structures. The key to this technology is fabricating low-temperature circuits, which is accomplished using transistors that are based on amorphous silicon rather than crystalline silicon. The tradeoff is the lack of a highly ordered inner structure, and Princeton professor James Sturm concedes that "these transistors do not perform nearly as well as the ones that Intel would make on one of its chips." To overcome this problem, professor Naveen Verma and a team of graduate students tapped the concept of a super-regenerative circuit to boost the radio's frequency and circumvent the amorphous silicon transistors' relatively poor performance. "Essentially, you take the electrons and you slosh them back and forth between the inductor and capacitor, and the rate of this sloshing does not depend on getting electrons through the transistor," Verma says. Large, high-quality inductors and capacitors were used to avoid significant electron loss during this process, and the final device operated well at the large scale despite the transistors' performance issues.
Researchers Granted Patent for System That Fuses Human and Computer Intelligence
Penn State Live (08/20/13) Stephanie Koons
The creators of a system that integrates human and computer intelligence to support decision-making in crisis situations have been awarded a U.S. patent for a collaborative intelligent agent framework that "finds the sweet spot that combines machine intelligence working in tandem with human intelligence," says Pennsylvania State University professor John Yen. Agent-based Collaborative Recognition-Primed Decision Making employs a Collaborative Agents for Simulating Teamwork framework augmented with a recognition-primed decision model to enhance analysis by connecting and sharing information using knowledge and experience distributed among team members. The researchers say they devised a cognitive-aware software system that functions as a decision aid for human team members in various ways, including context-sensitive predictions of others' information requirements, proactive information/experience sharing, and collaborative situation evaluation. The framework utilizes an interacting team of software agents, each possessing specialized knowledge and processing capability, to analyze data, organize hypotheses, assess alternatives, determine what type of information is needed for a dynamic decision-making environment, and to support human analysts. "This agent architecture can not only enhance the capabilities of anti-terrorist analysts in identifying terrorist threats, but also pave the way for the next generation of digital assistants that are 'personalized' not only for individuals, but also for teams," the researchers say.
Kean Computer Science Students in Union Travel 'Beyond the Grave'
Kean University computer science students have developed a smartphone app to provide access to information on grave markers in the First Presbyterian Church cemetery in Elizabeth, N.J. Last September the church's Reverend Higgs challenged the students to develop such an app to provide the details recorded on more than 2,000 gravestones. Kean professor Patricia Morreale split the students into two groups to develop an iPhone app and an Android app, with each group replicating the other's search functionality and features. Both apps are now available for free download. The apps provide information by name, year of death, age, or section of the burial grounds, and each person's file includes birth and death dates, age, cause of death, epitaph, and a photo of the gravestone if available. Graveyard maps, photos, and information also are provided. "The app was well received at the NJ Historic Trust annual preservation conference in Newark," notes Reverend Higgs. "It clearly represents a cutting-edge approach to linking the latest technology to the necessity of preserving and rediscovering our history."
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