Welcome to the January 14, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Obama Calls for New Laws to Bolster Cybersecurity
The New York Times (01/13/15) Julie Hirschfeld Davis
President Barack Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to pass broad legislation designed to bolster cybersecurity across both the government and private sectors. The proposed legislation would increase penalties and prosecutions of certain cybercrimes and try to incentivize private companies to share cybersecurity threats with the government. Some specific measures in Obama's proposal would give "targeted liability protection" to companies sharing threat information with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and give law enforcement better tools to prosecute those who run botnets and use them for denial-of-service attacks and other criminal activities. "We want cybercriminals to feel the full force of American justice, because they are doing as much damage--if not more, these days--as folks who are involved in more conventional crime," Obama said. The president's announcement came a day after he called for legislation that would compel U.S. companies to be more forthcoming when they are the victims of data breaches affecting consumer credit card and other data. In addition, the White House announced that Obama will attend a summit meeting on Feb. 13 at Stanford University that will include government officials, business executives, law enforcement officials, and public interest advocates to discuss cybersecurity and consumer protection.
Computers May Soon Know You Better Than Your Spouse
IDG News Service (01/12/15) Joab Jackson
Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University say they have developed a statistical modeling program that analyzes a user's likes on Facebook to characterize their personality with an accuracy rivaling that of a spouse or close family member. The researchers say the technique could help software interact with people in more meaningful ways than existing big data-based systems, which they say often make predictions that are narrow in their scope. The researchers sampled Facebook pages from 86,220 volunteers, many of whom also filled out a personality survey focused on five major psychological traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The researchers conducted several rounds of machine learning to associate the traits with additional Facebook likes. To measure the effectiveness of the algorithms, the researchers gave questionnaires to friends and relatives of some participants. The survey results and computerized assessments then were compared with the self-assessments from the subjects. The researchers found that with just 10 likes the program would know someone as well as a work colleague, with more than 70 likes it reached the level of a friend or roommate, and with more than 300 likes it reached the level of a spouse or close relative.
Vision System for Household Robots
MIT News (01/12/15) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers say they have developed an algorithm that can aggregate different perspectives and recognize four times as many objects as one that uses a single perspective while reducing the number of misidentifications, and that works 10 times faster than conventional algorithms. "If you just took the output of looking at it from one viewpoint, there's a lot of stuff that might be missing, or it might be the angle of illumination or something blocking the object that causes a systematic error in the detector," says graduate student Lawson Wong, a researcher in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The researchers tested the algorithm using scenarios in which they had 20 to 30 different images of household objects clustered together on a table. In several of the scenarios, the clusters included multiple instances of the same object, closely packed together, which makes the task of matching different perspectives more difficult. The algorithm does not discard any of the hypotheses it generates across successive images, and instead samples from them at random. Because there is significant overlap between different hypotheses, a large-enough number of samples will typically yield consensus on the correspondences between the objects in any two successive images.
Why Software 'Containers' Won't Be Bad News for Programmers
The New York Times (01/13/15) Quentin Hardy
The rise of new cloud services and tools such as software containers are dramatically changing the way software is developed. The trend is toward greater automation so every individual line of code does not have to be typed out and examined by a coder. The comparison is to the industrial revolution and the rise of mechanization and mass production, which supplanted a great deal of manual labor and handicraft work. Some worry this change could be poised to put numerous coders out of work, but economists and others say that is not likely. Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Andrew McAfee compares it to the story of John Henry and the steam drill. "The explosion of steam and electricity was great for people who did physical work, they were needed for lots of other things," McAfee says. He adds that in the case of software, "there is a threshold of analytic skills among population that you can keep putting to use." Other experts say what is more likely to happen is the job description for a programmer is likely to expand to encompass other, previously untouched areas, such as advertising and business management.
Colleges Rush to Create Cybersecurity Soldiers
Tampa Tribune (FL) (01/11/15) Jerome R. Stockfisch
The recent increase in computer attacks at major corporations have pushed colleges and universities into educating more cybersecurity students and professionals. For example, the University of Tampa (UT) recently announced it will begin offering an undergraduate major in cybersecurity this fall, while Saint Leo University launched a master's program in cybersecurity in August, complementing its undergraduate program in information assurance and security. In addition, Florida Polytechnic University has a concentration in information assurance and cybersecurity in its computer science and information technology degree track, and the University of South Florida opened the Florida Cybersecurity Center with the help of a $5-million allocation from the state government. "With all of the high-profile breaches over this last year or so, more focus has been on security than I've ever seen," says UT professor Kenneth Knapp, head of the university's cybersecurity program. There were 209,749 national postings for cybersecurity jobs in 2013, up 74 percent from 2007, and the average salary for those jobs was $93,028, according to Burning Glass. "For us, it's trying to keep up with the demand," says Derek Mohammed, chairman of the computer science department at Saint Leo. Interest in the university's inaugural master's program in cybersecurity has been double what was expected.
Robots Learn by Watching Videos
UMD Right Now (01/13/15) Matthew Wright; Tom Ventsias
Researchers at the University of Maryland's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) and the National Information Communications Technology Research Center of Excellence in Australia (NICTA) are developing robotic systems that are able to teach themselves. The researchers want the robots to be able to learn the intricate grasping and manipulation movements required for cooking by watching online cooking videos. The researchers say the major breakthrough is the robots can "think" for themselves, determining the best combination of observed motions that will enable them to efficiently accomplish a given task. The technology combines approaches from artificial intelligence, computer vision, and natural language processing. "We are trying to create a technology so that robots eventually can interact with humans," says UMIACS researcher Cornelia Fermuller. The process involves teaching a robot a series of actions the way a child learns new words. Once a robot has learned a "vocabulary" of actions, it then can string them together in a way that achieves a given goal. "Others have tried to copy the movements. Instead, we try to copy the goals," says Maryland professor Yiannis Aloimonos. "This is the breakthrough." He notes this approach enables a robot to decide for itself how best to combine various actions, rather than reproducing a predetermined series of actions.
New Mobile App From Stanford and Sony Lets Your Phone Conduct Research on Breast Cancer and Alzheimer's While It Charges
Stanford Report (01/12/15) Bjorn Carey
Stanford University researchers has partnered with Sony to develop the Folding@home mobile app as an extension of the Folding@home distributed computing project. The researchers say the new mobile app can significantly expand on the original program, which already has simulated the structure of dozens of proteins and led to many important discoveries related to physiology and medicine. "There are a ton of people with really powerful phones, and if we can use them efficiently, it sets the stage for something really great," says Stanford professor Vijay Pande. The mobile app is designed to run only when the phone is not in use, most likely as it charges overnight. Once the phone is activated, the application will shut down and transfer the simulation to another phone that is not in use, which should maximize the network's capacity, according to Pande. At first, the application will focus on simulating several configurations of a kinase protein involved in breast cancer. "We're going to learn a lot about the basic biophysics of kinases and their mutations, but we're hoping we can help doctors use genomic sequencing of tumors to say which drug should be given first," Pande says.
Next-Gen Rust Language Moves to 1.0 Alpha
InfoWorld (01/12/15) Paul Krill
The Rust programming language has reached the stage of a feature-complete 1.0 alpha release. Developed by Mozilla Research, Rust is designed to be a fast systems programming language that will prevent most crashes, and the Rust Core Team describe the alpha release as a "huge milestone" for the language. "All 1.0 language features are now in place, and we do not expect major breaking changes to them," the team says. Developers have established application programming interface conventions, and have stabilized core functionality, including traits, data structures, and concurrency primitives. The beta1 release for Rust is expected the week of Feb. 16, and the general 1.0 version will likely follow one or more subsequent six-week release cycles. There should be minimal changes to the code that compiles on the beta release and on the final 1.0 version. However, the Rust team expects big changes in path and IO reform. The alpha release includes dynamically sized types, in which types whose size is only known at runtime are largely integrated into the language; multi-dispatch traits, in which trait deployments can be chosen via multiple types; associated types, which reduce verbosity with generics in traits; and where clauses, which offer a new way of specifying trait bounds.
An Entire Section of EPFL Ready to Integrate Renewables
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (01/12/15) Laure-Anne Pessina
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) say they have developed a sophisticated metering system that represents a major step in the development of the smart grids concept. The researchers installed Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) in four campus buildings, and connected them to a computing center where the status of the power grid is estimated with negligible time latency. The PMUs, by means of the time-synchronization made available by the global-positioning system, measure electrical quantities called synchrophasors. This means measurements are made over the entire grid with the same synchronized time, and then used to estimate the system state. "Thanks to an advanced data processing and delivery, we can estimate the entire state of the grid with a latency of maximum 60 milliseconds," says EPFL researcher Mario Paolone. The new model is part of a larger project called the Composable Method for Real-Time Control of Active Distribution Networks with Explicit Power Setpoints, which aims to develop an operating system for smart grids based on innovative control, communication, and storage systems. "Our goal is to install our models across the campus to make the EPFL independent of the traditional electrical power grid," says EPFL researcher Jean-Yves Le Boudec.
Death by Robot
The New York Times Magazine (01/09/15) Robin Marantz Henig
Looking forward to a future of autonomous robotic technology, many roboticists are realizing autonomous robots will inevitably find themselves in situations that require a moral judgment. Such robots could include health aide robots having to make a serious treatment decision on their own, an autonomous car finding a way to avoid an accident that injures or kills the least number of people, or a military robot given the ability to kill on the battlefield. Seeking to create guidelines for solving these and many other moral quandaries without human guidance, roboticists and computer scientists are turning to philosophers, psychologists, linguists, lawyers, theologians, and human rights experts. Some experts are extremely optimistic robots will become strong moral reasoners. Matthias Scheutz of the Human Robot Interaction Laboratory at Tufts University believes robots will eventually be better and more consistent at making moral judgments than human beings. However, others are dubious of the idea of giving robots the authority to make moral decisions, especially in matters of life and death. Speaking to the United Nations last year about the prospect of autonomous military robots, Peter Asaro of Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society said machines are not "capable of considering the value" of a human life and giving them the ability to kill under the law would be an affront to human dignity.
Program Introduces Young Students to STEM Education
Deseret News (UT) (01/13/15) Jasen Lee
The Rose Park Ignites STEM Education (RISE) program, funded by a $20,000 Verizon Foundation grant, will introduce low-income minority students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through professionals in the fields as well as through STEM camps. The program runs in two phases, with the first phase showing the value of science as a field of study for children in this community. "The cool thing about having this technology is that it gives our kids a chance to have access to technology that they otherwise wouldn't have," says Community Learning Center director Joel Azvizo. The initial phase will include workshops with family nights that are STEM-centered, such as science and physiology, biochemistry and beauty, and computer science. Phase two will offer classes in which technologies purchased with the grant money will be utilized in summer STEM camps. Rose Park Elementary is one of 80 U.S. public schools to receive a grant this year as part of Verizon's investment to help provide teachers with the resources they need to use technology more innovatively and effectively to engage students in STEM, says Verizon's Meagan Dorsch. The grant program is part of the Obama administration's ConnectED initiative, under which Verizon is providing up to $100 million in support to drive student achievement.
Batman Lights the Way to Compact Data Storage
Paul Scherrer Institute (01/12/15) Laura Hennemann
Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) researchers say they have developed technology that could make data storage on hard drives faster and more efficient. The researchers say they have succeeded in switching tiny, magnetic structures using laser light and tracking the change over time. In the process, a nanometer-sized area reminiscent of the Batman logo appeared, indicating success in reducing the size of the magnetic bits used to store data. In their tests, the researchers used magnetic squares with a side length of between one and five thousandths of a millimeter. Every square and even a part of a square can be seen as a tiny magnet and could thus be a storage bit. "Using light for magnetic switching clearly works," says PSI researcher Frithjof Nolting. "But why exactly it does is still the subject of debate in the research community." The researchers developed a time-resolved measurement that enabled them to observe the changes one step at a time using x-rays to gain a better understanding of the magnetic reorientation process. Using this process, the researchers were able to observe how the direction of magnetization changes. "This could be the way to store even more data on even smaller hard drives one day," says PSI researcher Loic Le Guyader.
We Know How You Feel
The New Yorker (01/19/15) Raffi Khatchadourian
An increasing number of companies are developing technology designed to read human emotions, and in its latest issue "The New Yorker" profiles one of these companies, Affectiva, and the computer scientist, Rana el Kaliouby, who helped to design its most successful product. Kaliouby became interested in finding ways of helping computers read emotions after reading about Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Rosalind Picard, who pioneered the field of affective computing. Eventually Kaliouby's research led her to create a system she conceived of as an emotional "hearing aid," which could help autistic children learn how to interact socially. The program, MindReader, eventually proved to be of interest to advertisers, who sought to use it to gauge audiences' emotional responses to advertisements. MindReader led to Affectiva and a new product, Affdex, which has attracted the attention of the entertainment industry. TV executives use the technology to gauge interest in new shows and, after a Spanish comedy club successfully used the technology to bill customers "by the laugh," movie theaters and other entertainment venues became interested in Affdex. The potential applications for the technology are vast, from reading the emotional content of a business conference call to computerized therapists to emotionally responsive consumer technology.
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