Welcome to the December 3, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Reinventing the Internet to Make It Safer
The New York Times (12/02/14) Nicole Perlroth
A research program that began as an effort to discover what an Internet built from the ground up today might look like has spawned innovations that companies are using to improve the security of the Internet. Five years ago, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched the Clean Slate program to conceptualize computer systems built from the ground up with modern security insights. Clean Slate consists of the Clean-Slate Design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts (CRASH) program, which focuses on designing systems that are hard to breach and have the ability to operate and heal themselves when compromised; and the Mission-Oriented Resilient Clouds program, which aims to build similar computer networking and cloud computing systems. The Clean Slate projects are now wrapping up and have yielded some innovations with commercial potential. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Howard E. Shrobe, who oversaw Clean Slate until last year, highlights the CRASH program's Clean Slate Trustworthy Secure Research and Development project, which uses software and other technologies to run computers in a "safe mode" designed to protect them from cyberattacks exploiting buffer overflows. "It was always my intent to offer a menu of technical options that companies who make computers and computer software could introduce into the commercial stream," Shrobe says. "We're beginning to see some of that work take effect now."
See It, Touch It, Feel It
University of Bristol News (12/02/14)
University of Bristol researchers have developed a method to produce three-dimensional (3D) shapes that can be felt in mid-air. The researchers say their method could change the way 3D shapes are used, enabling surgeons to explore a computed tomography (CT) scan by enabling them to feel a disease using haptic feedback. The new method uses ultrasound, which is focused onto hands above the device and can be felt by the user. The device focuses complex patterns of ultrasound, which causes air disturbances that can be seen as floating 3D shapes. The method also involves directing the device at a thin layer of oil so the depressions in the surface can be seen as spots when illuminated by a lamp. The system generates an invisible 3D shape that can be added to 3D displays to create an object that can be seen and felt. "Touchable holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable controls in free space, are all possible ways of using this system," says University of Bristol researcher Ben Long. "In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artifacts in a museum." The research will be presented at this week's SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 conference in Shenzhen, China.
Stephen Hawking Warns Artificial Intelligence Could End Mankind
BBC News (12/02/14) Rory Cellan-Jones
Responding to questions about an update to the system he uses to communicate, British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says he worries about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence. Hawking was being interviewed by the BBC about the new system he is using to help him communicate, which incorporates artificial intelligence in the form of machine-learning techniques. Hawking says although artificial intelligence is yielding many useful and positive advancements, such as his text-to-speech system, he fears more advanced technology, which could match or surpass human intelligence, might threaten the human species. "It would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate," Hawking says. "Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded." He is the latest scientific luminary to raise concerns about artificial intelligence. Earlier this year Elon Musk caused a stir when he called artificial intelligence "our biggest existential threat." In the interview, Hawking also discussed the potential dangers of the Internet, in particular the need for Internet companies to balance the privacy and freedom of users with the need for greater security.
NSA Releases Open Source Tool for High-Volume Data Flows
Government Computer News (12/01/14)
Private-sector programmers have an opportunity to examine and improve the code for the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) Niagarafiles (Nifi) data flow system. NSA has released the code for Nifi, which automates data flows among multiple computer networks, even when data formats and protocols differ. Based on the concepts of flow-based programming, Nifi is designed to manage data flow in massive distributed computing systems operated by many teams and organizations. Nifi "provides a way to prioritize data flows more effectively and get rid of artificial delays in identifying and transmitting critical information," says lead Nifi developer Joseph L. Witt. NSA says the tool could potentially enable organizations to quickly control, manage, and analyze the flow of information from geographically dispersed sites, thus creating comprehensive situational awareness. Programmers could improve Nifi with additional enhancements and applications, according to the agency. NSA has made the Nifi code available through the Apache Software Foundation. "We use open source releases to move technology from the lab to the marketplace, making state-of-the-art technology more widely available and aiming to accelerate U.S. economic growth," says NSA's Linda L. Burger.
CCC BRAIN Workshop--A Neuroscientist's Perspective
CCC Blog (12/01/14) Martin Wiener; Helen Vasaly
The Computing Community Consortium and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) are hosting a workshop in Washington, D.C., this week that brings together computer scientists and neuroscientists to discuss issues surrounding the interface between the neural and computing sciences. The scientists will discuss the intersections of neural research and machine learning, the limits of computer science imposed by human perception and cognition, cortical processing models, and efforts to connect the latest in neuroscience and neural computing. All of the talks will be live-streamed to the public. NSF's Martin Wiener says the event will help build on existing successful collaborations between the neural and computer sciences. He notes both fields have benefited from innovations in the other. Machine learning, for example, has led to the advent of multi-voxel pattern analysis of fMRI data and better pattern classification of electroencephalography and electrophysical recordings. Meanwhile, breakthroughs in neural science have helped foster the creation of neural computing systems that are helping to tackle sticky computer science problems. Wiener notes one area that is particularly benefiting is computer vision. He says neural chips and systems are more readily able to carry out the pattern recognition work necessary in this field than traditional computer hardware.
MIT Engineers Have High Hopes for Cheetah Robot
Associated Press (12/01/14) Rodrique Ngowi
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a cheetah-inspired robot that can run on batteries at speeds of more than 10 miles per hour, jump about 16 inches high, land safely, and continue running for at least 15 minutes. The researchers designed 12 lightweight motors, electronics that control power for the motors, and an algorithm that determines the amount of force a leg should exert to maintain balance while running. An onboard computer organizes data from various sensors and sends commands to each motor. "This is kind of a Ferrari in the robotics world, like, we have to put all the expensive components and make it really that instinctive," says MIT professor Sangbae Kim. Sensors inside the robot measure the angle of each leg and that information is sent to an onboard computer that organizes data from the Inertial Measurement Unit. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Kim says insights learned from the design of their prototype could have real-world uses, including revolutionary prosthetics, wearable technologies, all-terrain wheelchairs, and vehicles that can travel efficiently in rough terrain much like animals do. "In the next 10 years, our goal is we are trying to make this robot to save a life," he notes.
UNSW Researchers Aim to Secure Smartwatches for e-Health
Computerworld Australia (12/02/14) Adam Bender
The Australian Research Council has awarded a team of University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers a $322,800 grant to conduct experiments on boosting the security of wearable technology. The researchers aim to develop technology that can be incorporated into wearable fitness devices to make them secure and trusted enough to feed their data into mainstream health systems. In addition, the wearable technology could enable doctors to remotely monitor the health of patients in their homes and provide greater detail about a patient's health to improve diagnosis. "Secure, non-intrusive medical monitoring can offer quality-of-life for millions of patients with chronic conditions or age-related illnesses, while providing critical data for health care providers at dramatically reduced cost," says UNSW professor Vijay Sivaraman. The grant is expected to produce ultra-lightweight algorithms and mechanisms that execute in wearable devices to safeguard the integrity of the data, according to Sanjay Jha, director of UNSW's Cyber Security and Privacy Laboratory. "If health-care professionals and medical insurers are to trust the data coming from wearable devices, they also need to be confident that the provenance, namely the context--the person, time, and place associated with the data--is genuine, that the device integrity has not been compromised by malware, and that the data has not been tampered in transit or storage," Jha says.
Computer Equal to or Better Than Humans at Cataloging Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison (12/01/14) David Tenenbaum
University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) researchers have developed a computer system that could extract data from scientific publications and place it in a database at least as well as scientists. The UW-Madison researchers tested the PaleoDeepDive machine-reading system against scientists who manually entered data into the Paleobiology Database. "We demonstrated that the system was no worse than people on all the things we measured, and it was better in some categories," says UW-Madison professor Christopher Re. The researchers built the DeepDive machine-reading system and the HTCondor distributed job management system to create PaleoDeepDive. "We extracted the same data from the same documents and put it into the exact same structure as the human researchers, allowing us to rigorously evaluate the quality of our system, and the humans," says UW-Madison professor Shanan Peters. The system looks at the entire problem of extraction as a probabilistic problem. "Information that was manually entered into the Paleobiology Database by humans cannot be assessed or enhanced without going back to the library and re-examining original documents," Peters says. "Our machine system, on the other hand, can extend and improve results essentially on the fly as new information is added."
Study Suggests Encouraging STEM Classes Triggers Interest in College Students
Indiana Daily Student (11/30/14)
It is just as important to help students maintain an interest in mathematics and science as it is to spark that interest, according to new study from Indiana University (IU) researchers. IU professor Adam Maltese and co-researchers Christina Melki and Heidi Wiebke conducted a study of 8,000 college students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as in non-STEM disciplines. Most respondents who completed STEM degrees said it was their own passion for the field that was critical to getting them to pursue STEM studies. Twenty-six percent said teachers were their biggest influence, while 34 percent said they cultivated their interest in STEM subjects on their own. Respondents who first became interested in STEM in middle school or later were more likely to complete a degree than those who became interested at an earlier age, and they were more likely to say teachers were their main influence. Overall, the study suggests many combinations of events and timing spark and maintain interest in STEM. "This precludes finding a 'silver bullet' intervention, but it is really important as it indicates there are multiple ways to enter these paths," Maltese says.
Bitcoin Lets Users Avoid Censorship
Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands) (11/27/14)
Eindhoven University of Technology student Krzysztof Okupski has developed software that encrypts messages for the Bitcoin network. The system consists of two programs, one that posts messages and creates 1 million Bitcoin accounts, free of charge, enabling money to be transferred between those accounts. Okupski says users have many options due to the number of different accounts and because they can divide money into multiple parts. The second program reads messages and converts the chain of transactions back into text. All that is required is an identifier through which the program knows where it has to begin reading the transactions. With Okupski's system, it would cost about 50 cents to send an A4 page of text. He says the system also enables users to avoid censorship because a regime would not be able to restrict messages that are posted in the transaction chain anywhere else in the world. "Even if only your account number is known by the Bitcoin network, it's still possible in theory--using the [Internet protocol] address--to trace the owner of an account," says Boris Skoric, Okupski's supervisor and a researcher at Eindhoven. "But the readers of messages are always totally anonymous."
Brain Inspired Data Engineering
IMDEA Networks (11/26/14)
IMDEA Networks launched the BRAin inspired Data Engineering (BRADE-CM) research project in October. BRADE-CM seeks to add to the emerging generation of computation and information processing systems for large-scale data sets that are based on the workings of the brain. Researchers view the brain as an ideal model for information processing and have developed a number of bio-inspired systems in recent years. The scientific community continues to gain a better understanding of the brain's structure and its cognitive and transmission processes, providing a unique opportunity for designing novel information and communications technology (ICT) systems. The IMDEA Networks Institute in Madrid is part of an interdisciplinary team with a multi-tiered research approach that spans neuroscience, the development of imaging instrumentation, the modeling of complex systems and networks, and the design of ICT systems. IMDEA will work with the NETCOM Group from the Carlos III University of Madrid, the NEUROCOM group from the Complutense University of Madrid, and the BiiG group from the Foundation for Biomedical Research of the Gregorio Maranon Hospital. The project, which ends in September 2018, also has the support of several national and international universities and ICT companies.
Firmer Footing for Robots With Smart Walking Sticks
National Science Foundation (11/25/14)
Stanford University researchers have developed SupraPed, a robotic platform that uses "smart staffs," inspired by walking sticks, to better balance and move over uneven terrain. SupraPed can use the staffs to explore the terrain, expand the range of movements that are possible, and communicate a sense of touch to a human at a remote site. The research is supported by a U.S. National Science Foundation grant as part of the National Robotics Initiative, which is an effort to develop the next generation of robots that work beside or cooperatively with people. The smart staff is equipped with three-dimensional vision capabilities and tactile sensors that can assess the surface's topography, the friction of the material, its ability to sustain weight, and other relevant information. The Stanford researchers also created a suite of algorithms and control mechanisms enabling the robot to incorporate and control the staff. The algorithms are focused on the relationship between internal forces and movement control, enabling them to overcome existing problems and provide improved stability for the SupraPed. Some of the existing problems included balancing a changing center of mass during an activity, which is difficult in rough, irregular terrain, and even tougher with a system that employs input from four independent surfaces to balance and move.
Artificial Intelligence and Life Beyond the Algorithm: Alan Turing and the Future of Computing
Tech Republic (11/25/14) Steve Ranger
University of Leeds professor S. Barry Cooper says although computing pioneer Alan Turing died more than 50 years ago, many of his ideas are still influencing computer science today. "He is bringing ideas about computation to different areas and that's what's really significant about Turing--he made all these connections and he had a global over-arching view of how computation worked in many different contexts," says Cooper, who co-authored a book on Turing. The British mathematician is most remembered for his work helping to crack German codes during World War II and what he called "The Imitation Game," now more commonly known as the Turing Test, a proposed method for determining whether or not a machine has achieved a human level of intelligence. Turing was a strong believer in the inevitability of machine intelligence, and predicted machines would have human-like intelligence by the end of the 20th century. Although this prediction proved incorrect, Turing's mathematical thinking is in ascendancy with the primacy of algorithms and data science. However, Cooper notes Turing also recognized the power of non-mathematical thinking and that there are some problems beyond its ability to solve. "This is why he is still significant to us, he was thinking about issues that are still issues for us and in very basic ways that are still valid," Cooper says.
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