Welcome to the February 10, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Wikipedia vs. the Small Screen
The New York Times (02/09/14) Noam Cohen
As Internet users have shifted to mobile devices, Wikipedia has struggled to make the transition. As a result, the Wikipedia Foundation formed a team of 10 software developers to focus on developing the site for use with mobile devices. Just 20 percent of the readership of the English-language Wikipedia comes via mobile devices, a figure that is much lower than the percentage of mobile traffic for other media sites. In addition, only 1 percent of changes to Wikipedia articles in more than 250 languages are made via mobile devices. The concern is that mobile users are much more likely to read a Wikipedia article than edit it and the shift to mobile away from desktops could pose long-term problems for the site. "It's a big issue for everyone; the mobile phone is not a great input device--especially a smaller phone," says author Judith Donath. She says mobile "is not the interface for someone writing a long article with footnotes." Still, the Wikipedia Foundation's Erik Moller is optimistic about adjusting to a mobile world. Moller says focusing on mobile could diversify the editing corps, and notes that 20,000 mobile users now make at least one editing change a month, up from 3,000 last July.
U.S. Seeks Information on Industry Ability to Hold Bulk Phone Data
Computerworld (02/10/14) John Ribeiro
The U.S. government is requesting industry feedback on whether commercially available services offer a viable third-party alternative for storing bulk phone records for a U.S. National Security Agency program. The government is particularly interested in whether commercially available services can offer secure storage and high availability to U.S. telephone metadata records over an adequate time frame. According to the request for information from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the government wants to investigate alternatives for storing phone metadata "without the government storing the metadata, while maintaining the current capabilities of that system and the existing protections for U.S. persons." Meanwhile, James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, announced that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has given the government approval to amend a Jan. 3 primary order on metadata collection, which will be released to the public on Feb. 17. Last month President Barack Obama called for a new telephony metadata approach that would "establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata."
NSA Is Collecting Less Than 30 Percent of U.S. Call Data, Officials Say
The Washington Post (02/07/14) Ellen Nakashima
Former and current U.S. officials say the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) gathers less than 30 percent of all domestic phone data due to an upsurge in the use of mobile phones. The percentage of data being collected is down from 2006, when a senior U.S. official said NSA was collecting "closer to 100" percent of Americans' phone records from several U.S. companies. However, the U.S. government reportedly wants to collect more data and is preparing to seek court orders to require wireless companies that currently do not hand over records to the government to do so. In addition, although the current percentage is down from earlier levels, it reportedly still accounts for billions of records that go back as far as five years. "For innocent Americans, 20 or 30 percent is still a significant number and will chill legitimate lawful activities,’’ says the American Civil Liberties Union's Christopher Soghoian. Meanwhile, U.S. government officials defend the program, noting that even collecting a quarter of the available data is valuable. "It's better than zero,” says NSA's Rick Ledgett. "If it's zero, there's no chance."
There Are No Computer Science Teachers in NY
Crain's New York Business (02/05/14) Matthew Flamm
Even as New York City acknowledges the need to teach computer science to its middle and high school students, the state does not officially recognize the subject, which prevents teachers from receiving computer science training. Fewer than 100 of the 75,000 teachers in New York City public schools teach computer science, and it will take years before every middle and high school in the city can offer at least one computer science class. Although New York offers Career and Technical Education (CTE) certificates, "there is no telling if a teacher with a CTE certificate actually knows any computer science," says Computer Science Teachers Association executive director Chris Stephenson. CTE certificates can be awarded, for example, for simply learning to use computer applications such as Excel. Public-private efforts such as the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education are running educator training programs, which have placed computer science teachers in more than two dozen schools this year. New York City Department of Education deputy chief academic officer Josh Thomases says the city needs to determine which programs work before rolling them out system-wide. Thomases also says his department must work closely with the computer engineering industry to keep coursework current.
Snowden Used Low-Cost Tool to Best NSA
The New York Times (02/08/14) David E. Sanger; Eric Schmitt
Edward Snowden used inexpensive and widely available software to "scrape" the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) networks, according to intelligence officials investigating the case. "We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence," according to one official. The investigators say Snowden's "insider attack" was very unsophisticated and should have been easily detected. Web crawler software automatically moves from website to website, following links embedded in each document, and can be programmed to copy everything in its path. Snowden was able to use the software because he worked at an agency outpost that had not yet been upgraded with modern security measures. Investigators have yet to determine if Snowden knew the outpost had yet to install the security upgrades that might have stopped him, and sought a position there for the purpose of scraping NSA's networks. Although the investigating officials declined to say which Web crawler Snowden used, they did say it functioned like a Googlebot, a widely used Web crawler that Google developed to find and index new pages on the Web. However, the officials have not been able to explain why the presence of such software in a highly classified system was not an obvious indication of unauthorized activity.
Tim Berners-Lee: We Need to Re-Decentralize the Web
Wired.co.uk (02/06/14) Liat Clark
In an interview, Sir Tim Berners-Lee called on the public to refocus on a decentralized, open Internet. "I want a Web that's open, works internationally, works as well as possible, and is not nation-based," Berners-Lee says. "What I don't want is a Web where the Brazilian government has every social network's data stored on servers on Brazilian soil." The U.S. National Security Agency and the UK's Government Communications Headquarters surveillance controversies have led to distrust among governments and individuals that is threatening the open Web, Berners-Lee warns. He says the hacker community has the responsibility of "pushing back on conventional government sometimes" to voice alternative viewpoints. Berners-Lee promotes an open Internet through his work at the Open Data Institute, the World Wide Web Consortium, and the World Wide Web Foundation. In addition, as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, Berners-Lee helps his students build "new architectures for the Web where it's decentralized."
Social Media Analysis Reveals the Complexities of Syrian Conflict
Technology Review (02/06/14)
University College Dublin computer scientist Derek O'Callaghan and colleagues studied social media communication patterns on Twitter and YouTube to determine the various groups involved in the Syrian conflict. Using a standard community detection algorithm, the team found the relationships among more than 600 social media accounts that post or link to content related to the Syrian conflict. Four distinctly aligned groups were discovered, including Jihadist, Kurdish, Pro-Assad, and secular or moderate opposition, comprised of more than 16 separate communities. The online response from these communities to ground activity varied widely. For example, the moderate/secular community uploaded 440 videos on the day of the Ghouta chemical weapons attack last August, while the Jihadist committee uploaded only 37 videos two days after the attack. The researchers believe this reflects some aspect of ground engagement. Although social media studies usually reveal two broadly opposing groups in political issues, the Syrian conflict is more complex. The team concludes that "social media activity in Syria is considerably more convoluted than reported in many other studies of online political activism that find a straightforward polarization effect."
IBM's Watson in Africa to Help Solve Problems
BBC News (02/06/14)
IBM has launched Project Lucy, a 10-year, $100 million initiative to leverage IBM's Watson supercomputer to give Africa a boost in agriculture, education, health, and other areas. Under Lucy, universities will have an opportunity to connect to the cloud-based system, and those with very limited computer resources will be able to link via smartphones or portable devices with Internet connectivity. The supercomputer uses artificial intelligence to analyze vast amounts of data and also can understand human language. Participants in the project will be able to ask Watson questions and receive answers, such as the best treatment for an individual patient. "It is also able to reason," says Uyi Stewart, chief scientist of IBM Research in Africa. "One if its key functions is natural language processing." Stewart says Lucy could transform education and health in Africa in much the same way that mobile banking has transformed finance. "With the adoption of mobile phones, banking has become virtual and it could be the same premise in education and healthcare," Stewart says. IBM is tweaking Watson to deliver relevant bite-sized chunks of information. University of Lagos professor Rahamon Bello says access to a supercomputer could help Africa "leapfrog other economies."
DARPA Thinks the Future of Surveillance Looks Like Siri
Defense One (02/06/14) Patrick Tucker
U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Information Innovation Office director Dan Kaufman says an innovation gap exists as the private sector advances in areas in which the government was once primarily responsible for research breakthroughs. Kaufman hopes to close that gap, and notes that DARPA has made its most recent big data research effort part of the DARPA Open Catalog, which aims to open more of the agency's software and science research to the public. For example, he says improved encryption can help provide both privacy and security. "What if there was a way to collect the data but encrypt it so that people couldn't use it in a way that wasn't approved?" Kaufman asks. In the future, spying on data will be more difficult even as data proliferates across multiple channels, says Kaufman, pointing to DARPA's PROCEED program, which successfully demonstrated fully homomorphic encryption for cloud environments, previously thought to be impossible. DARPA also will use advanced machine learning to help the Defense Department manage threats, enabling security experts to interact with an algorithm that learns what to look for and improves results through continued interaction.
Argentines Become Citizen-Cops With Smartphone App
Associated Press (02/07/14) Paul Byrne
University of Buenos Aires computing engineering students have developed "Precios OK," a free smartphone app that scans bar codes on products to find evidence of overpricing by companies. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez praised the app during a national address this week after her aides learned of it. "We are not really going through the best of times, and people really need to be attentive when they go shopping," says University of Buenos Aires student Yamila Fraiman, who designed the software with fellow student Alejandro Torrado. Argentina's government blames escalating inflation on speculators and greedy businesses, and has pressured leading supermarket chains to keep selling more than 80 key products at fixed prices. However, although Abeceb.com economist Dante Sica agrees the app is a great tool, he says it cannot end Argentina's economic turmoil alone, in part because businesses quickly find ways to maintain profits by offering products in different sizes, flavors, and packages. Nevertheless, Fraiman says people are finding the app very helpful. "In Argentina it's really useful with people wanting to watch their pockets right now," Fraiman says. She and Torrado previously won an award for another app that helps drivers find parking spaces in Buenos Aires.
NSF Awards Grants to Seven Joint U.S.-Japanese Projects for Next-Generation Networking Technologies
National Science Foundation (02/03/14) Aaron Dubrow
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Japan National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) recently announced the first round of awards provided through the Japan-U.S. Network Opportunity (JUNO) program. The seven awards aim to explore fundamental aspects of next-generation computer networks, investigating how to scale the networks to support trillions of network-connected devices and objects. "We need novel approaches to sustain the scale and complexity of networks for the explosive growth in the mobile Internet, in cloud technologies, and in the Internet of Things," says NSF's Farnam Jahanian. "We are thrilled to build upon our previous work with NICT, supporting collaborations between top researchers in the U.S. and Japan, who aim to lay the foundations for future global networks." The JUNO program aims to address issues that arise when trillions of devices are network-connected, as is expected to be the case by the year 2020. "JUNO brings together researchers on the leading edge of technology to create a flexible, dynamic optical highway, and other architectures necessary to efficiently sustain the global IT network of 2020, when trillions of electronic devices are expected to be connected to the Internet," says University of Texas at Dallas professor Andrea Fumagalli.
Interview With Woz: To Innovate, Get Personal
InfoWorld (02/04/14) Galen Gruman
In an interview, Apple co-founder and Fusion-io chief scientist Steve Wozniak discusses innovation and the importance of a human element in computing. Wozniak says many of today's efforts at innovation are failing to take hold because people continue to look to the past. For example, with wearable computing, companies are focusing on computing eyeware, he says, noting that companies have been "marrying eyewear with TV inputs for 20 years." For innovation to take off, the cost of enabling technology must drop and other enabling factors, such as regulatory and practical considerations, must be in place, Wozniak says. In addition, he says technology that becomes mainstream often has human, personal qualities. "The software gets more accepted when it works in human ways--meaning in noncomputer ways," Wozniak says. "The mouse is a good example. Using it works like how we see things in space; you're not having to think that you move 5 inches but instead move your hand." Currently, voice-based assistants such as Apple's Siri and Google's voice recognition enable a natural human form of interaction. Wozniak says the convergence of natural language recognition, artificial intelligence-like analysis and transaction systems, and improved connectivity will allow technology to serve in a companion-like capacity for users.
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