ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either HP or ACM.
To send comments, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 4, Issue 417: Wednesday, October 30, 2002
- "MIT, London Team Reports First Transatlantic Touch"
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University College London have managed to transmit haptic signals over the Atlantic using the Internet. In the future, the researchers say the technology could be used in a variety of virtual reality applications, such as telemedicine and physics study. MIT Touch Lab director Mandayam A. Srinivasan says the possibilities are tremendous, and compares the accomplishment to Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone transmission. The test, which the researchers plan to replicate at an Internet2 conference at the University of Southern California, involves a robotic haptics tool, called PHANToM, and a virtual room. The participants grasp the end of the robotic arm, which exerts realistic pressure on their hand, and collaborate to lift a box in the middle of the virtual room. Each user can feel the force exerted by the other, as well as the weight of the box. MIT researcher Jung Kim says the main obstacle to wider deployment is Internet speed, which hinders real-time synchronization. Each user must move slowly, otherwise they will cause vibrations on the other end. Srinivasan says the average reflex lapse between the human brain and the hand is 30 milliseconds, while the data sent over the Internet in the recent experiment took 150 milliseconds to 200 milliseconds to travel
between MIT and London.
- "Is Linux the Key to Securing Cyberspace?"
Medill News Service (10/29/02); Madigan, Michelle
A Washington, D.C., security summit held yesterday focused on how open source technologies can more effectively protect networks and computer systems than proprietary technologies, but the federal government is still refusing to take sides, according to White House cybersecurity official Marcus Sachs. Open source code such as Linux can be more readily customized by users, allowing repairs and incremental improvements to be implemented on an as-needed basis, noted Australian software engineering professor and summit attendee Bill Caelli, who added that proprietary systems prevent such tweaking of security infrastructure. He acknowledged that both open source and proprietary software have their faults, but said glitches in an open source system can be fixed faster. Despite the government's policy of noninvolvement, federal agencies are not prohibited from deploying open source technologies, and a few have already done so. Summit attendee Dwight Gibbs commented that an environment that combines both open source and proprietary technologies could be the optimal solution. Sachs insisted that the White House is aware of the nation's dependence on cyberspace and its vulnerabilities, but said that it would rather demonstrate leadership than regulate security initiatives. The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace calls upon government agencies, businesses, individuals, and academic institutions to deploy cyber-defenses themselves. Internet security specialist James Griffin countered that leaving market forces to work out the debate has resulted in poor-quality software, since organizations and individuals have no real incentive to promote security.
- "A Lack of Money Forces Computer Initiative to Close"
New York Times (10/30/02) P. C8; Schwartz, John
The PowerUP initiative, which helped set up 957 technology centers tasked with bridging the digital divide between rich and poor in local communities in the U.S. will cease operations tomorrow and leave the centers to seek funding on their own. The economic downturn is blamed for the closing of PowerUP's national offices, but spokeswoman Denise Keyes says now is as good a time as any for the PowerUP centers to become self-sufficient. PowerUP was introduced in 1999 so that local efforts would be less fragmented and have more scalability, according to former AOL Chairman Stephen M. Case, who contributed $10 million in start-up funding. He announced at the start that "PowerUP will help knit these initiatives into a national tapestry and jump-start a crusade that can change the lives of millions of kids, bringing together an unprecedented combination of people, skills, and resources." Case Foundation executive VP Jerry Dovalis estimates that PowerUP received as much as $100 million from foundations and corporations, which included Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, and Sun Microsystems. A few PowerUP centers will be supported by organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, while AOL, CTCnet, Intel, Microsoft, Gateway, and others are financing programs that offer technology services to the poor. Some experts attribute PowerUP's demise to fundamental flaws in its architecture. Former Clinton administration official Larry Irving describes the initiative as a "McDonald's-style, top-down franchise operation" that did not necessarily align with community development needs.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Promise of P3P Stalls as Backers Regroup"
CNet (10/29/02); Festa, Paul
Supporters of the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) protocol are scheduled to meet again in November in order to discuss how to forward the standard, which has languished as Web sites and other online businesses struggle in the down economy. Introduced six months ago by the World Wide Web Consortium, P3P adoption has not grown significantly since August, according to a study done by Ernst & Young, with just 25 of the top 100 Web domains implementing some P3P technology or standards. P3P is a consumer-oriented technology meant to simplify and standardize privacy protocols for e-commerce and other activities on the Web. Importantly, Microsoft has already bundled P3P in Internet Explorer version 6, allowing users to block cookies from Web sites that do not conform to P3P standards. Equipped with P3P-enabled browsers, users can define exactly the types of private information they would like to share with Web sites. They could, for example, automatically share shipping information, but request special prompts when the Web site wants a credit card number, for example. Federal industry regulations, such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, are also creating confusion over P3P. The Ernst & Young study found that financial services Web sites lag other sector Web sites in P3P adoption, because of concerns with its legal ramifications. In health care, however, P3P could provide a way for companies to prove they have robust privacy policies and technologies in place.
- "Firm Says Law Stifles Fair Use"
Los Angeles Times (10/28/02) P. C1; Healey, Jon
A company named 321 Studios is leading another battle between copyright holders and fair-use advocates. The company makes a DVD Copy Plus product that enables people to make copies of DVDs with copy-proof technology, but the Motion Picture Association says DVD Copy Plus violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which contains a provision that bans picking an electronic lock on a copyrighted work. However, 321 Studios owner Robert Moore, who has made millions from selling his DVD-copying tool, argues that people have a right to make back-up copies of their DVDs. Moore's company has gone to court to ask a federal court to either declare his product legal and in compliance with the DMCA, or to declare that the DMCA electronic-lock provision is unconstitutional. Consumer groups note that under historical fair-use rights, consumer enjoy the freedom to make copies of media they purchase. Consumer Electronics Association official Gary Klein counters that circumventing electronic locks even when engaging in fair-use activity still subjects people to "criminal penalties." DVD Copy Plus takes between six hours and 20 hours to move DVD content onto a lower-quality CD, which some believe makes the program useless for pirate DVD sellers. Since Moore filed his lawsuit, the U.S. District Court in San Jose upheld the constitutionality of anti-circumvention provisions, although the ruling is not binding. Harvard University law professor William W. Fisher says a successful DMCA challenge likely will require a "more traditional, free-speech context."
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "ICANN Critics May Create Rival Internet Administration Group"
Computerworld Online (10/29/02); Weiss, Todd R.
A group of unhappy top-level domain (TLD) holders may seek to take away some of ICANN's administrative functions next year when the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority's (IANA) contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce comes up for renewal in March 2003, according to Center for Democracy and Technology analyst Rob Courtney. ICANN is holding a public forum this week in Shanghai, China, to collect input about ICANN reform proposals. ICANN will vote on proposed reforms tomorrow. IANA performs administrative work such as maintaining Internet administrative contacts and updating Internet name servers. Courtney says that if a separatist group won the IANA contract it would split Internet responsibilities between two groups for the first time since ICANN's inception in 1998. This idea remains at a seminal stage and Courtney says that "none of the TLDs have come up with the detailed proposals needed to do such a thing."
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Math Proves Tetris Is Tough"
Nature Online (10/28/02); Pearson, Helen
Tetris, the simple computer game with falling blocks that must be aligned according to color, is difficult to play because it is a NP-complete problem, which requires the exhaustion of all possibilities in order to find the optimal solution. Such problems are epitomized by the "traveling salesman" question, where the shortest route through many cities needs to be found. Tetris was invented by Alexey Pazhitnov, and was popularized in America by Nintendo, which made it into a hit video game. Former Tetris players at MIT took it upon themselves to prove mathematically that it is nearly impossible to create a sure-fire algorithm that will best human intuition in Tetris. MIT's Erik Demaine says that complexity makes the game addicting. This month, chess champion Vladimir Kramnik tested computer scientists' ability to solve such problems when he played the chess-playing computer Deep Fritz. Chess presents an even greater conundrum than Tetris, since the complexity of the game multiplies with the size of the board. The Japanese game of Go is regarded as the most difficult such computational game because it requires both memory and the game play is long.
- "Trio Teams Up for Bendable Screens"
CNet (10/29/02); Shim, Richard
Lucent Technologies, DuPont, and Sarnoff today announced a three-year partnership to participate in an Advanced Technology Program (ATP) initiative to develop thin, bendable displays using polymer-based organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) in order to speed up their commercial production. Lucent's job will be to develop the displays' organic materials and electronic elements; DuPont will provide technical expertise to integrate OLED technology with flexible substrates and devise a manufacturing process; and Sarnoff will be tasked with refining video display systems and color usage. OLED displays are expected to be thinner and more power efficient than liquid crystal displays (LCDs) because they can function without a backlight. They are also cheaper to make, which appeals to development firms. "Using a flexible display and a solution-based technology, we can get to a lower-cost situation," declares DuPont display unit CTO Dalen Keys. DisplaySearch estimates that the OLED market will skyrocket from $85 million to $3 billion between 2002 and 2007. Analysts do not expect OLED displays to become serious competition for LCDs until mass production through streamlined assembly processes is achieved, which should take a decade. ATP is a part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
- "Tools Coming for Connecting Information"
SiliconValley.com (10/28/02); Gillmor, Dan
The Digital Age has made more information than ever accessible to people, and storage hardware is rapidly increasing in capacity to keep pace. The tools needed to manage that influx are also making progress, albeit more slowly, writes Dan Gillmor. Grokker, from software startup Groxis, is set to release a Windows-based visualization tool that allows users to see maps of their stored files or sites on the Internet, according to the search terms entered. Once the areas of information, represented by circles, are in place, the user can overlap them or focus in more closely in each circle in order to get more specific results. Additionally, Grokker is being applied specifically to the database of Amazon.com, part of which is left open so that other Internet programs can access it. Groxis plans to add other site searches in the future. Another useful data management tool is Find from Idealab, an updated Windows version of the old DOS program Magellan. Find automatically indexes email and other important files for users, saving time and helping keep order. In the future, XML will be applied to all files and computer data, making it easier to search and share data with others. Still, Gillmor says more work needs to be done as better tools are needed for organizing and retrieving the tidal wave of information users are faced with today.
- "Data Mining Life on Earth"
Salon.com (10/28/02); Mieszkowski, Katharine
University of Arizona entomologist David Maddison specializes in studying beetles, a specialty that covers 30,000 species, and according to federal botanist Gary Waggoner, science today has only encountered "maybe 10% of what's out there." Modern science has classified between 1.5 million and 1.7 million species of plants, fungi, insects, and animals. Even within this small spectrum, language barriers and multiple names for the same species hamper research, says Maddison, who is working to place species classification on the Internet. Maddison's Tree of Life Web Project is an online project dedicated to tracking evolutionary knowledge using data-mining and other database technology. A project called CalFlora aims to catalogue all of California's plants, and All Species Toolkit contains an online database of 873,979 species. The U.S. government has created an Integrated Taxonomic Information System for U.S. vertebrate species, and an international database that includes synonym names for species. All Species Foundation CEO Ryan Phelan says the consensus science community estimate is that about 30 million species exist on earth, with various individual estimates ranging between 5 million and 100 million. UC Berkeley computer science professor Robert Wilensky, who works on the Digital Library Project, predicts future science experiments will involve various international and national databases much like today's experiments involve laboratories.
- "Stamp Corrals Tiny Bits"
Technology Research News (10/23/02); Patch, Kimberly
Although disk drive makers have been able to double the capacity of their drives each year for the past five years, the laws of physics will soon put a cap on the amount of data current technology can store, thus firms are busy researching new storage techniques. IBM researchers have developed a new way of fitting more pieces of information on hard disks through the use of imprint pattern lithography. Using current methods, disk drive density is expected to top out at 200GB per square inch, at which point the drives become unreliable as the magnetic grains storing the information flip when they become too small. By stamping out a pattern so that magnetic material is isolated, manufacturers are able to create more dense hard disks relatively cheaply. The process, developed at IBM's Almaden Research Center, presses an etched-out stamp onto a thin plastic film, spread over a silicon oxide substrate. Tiny pillars of silicon oxide are created after the stamping process and then covered with a magnetic film. IBM research staff member Gary McClelland says making the stamp flexible was also a key factor because it allows for surface inconsistencies on the glass disk substrate. Robert White of Stanford University and founder of that school's Center for Research on Information Storage Materials says future improvements on the imprint lithography technique could boost disk drive densities as high as 2,000GB per square inch. McClelland says commercial application of the research could come in as little as five years. Meanwhile, Seagate is pursuing a different approach, developing self-ordering magnetic arrays in order to make more dense hard disks. That method could eventually lead to as much as 50 terabits, or 50,000GB, per square inch, according to the company.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "TACC Awarded $2 Million by Department of Energy for Grid Web Services"
Grid Computing Planet (10/18/02); Shread, Paul
The Department of Energy (DoE) has awarded $2.1 million to the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to develop Web portal technologies for accessing grid computing services. Several government research agencies already have developed Web portals and toolkits that make it easier for developers to create grid services applications for end users. Such portals and Web services technologies are in place on the National Science Foundation Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure grid, the NASA Information Power Grid, and the National Institutes of Health Biomedical Informatics Research Network. The applications and developer tools created by the TACC will help support the DoE Science Grid by creating a standard environment for sharing data and collaboration using the grid. Specifically, the program will work on codes for scientific use, mathematical and computational software, and collaboration tools and infrastructure. The first deployment of these new technologies is planned to be on the National Fusion Collaboratory project, followed by the Collaboratory for Multi-Scale Chemical Science and other projects.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Stepping Away From Sugar and Textiles, an Island Sets Hopes on Technology"
Associated Press (10/27/02)
The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius wants to turn the densely populated country into a cyber-island, and recently connected to an undersea fiber-optic cable to India, increasing bandwidth by 40,000%. Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth plans to equip every household with a computer by 2009, and make Internet access as freely available as other public utilities such as water and electricity. Some employers are helping by giving computers away to their workers. The country of 1.2 million people already has the highest average annual income per capita in Africa, but is collaborating with outside institutions to create a high-tech work force. Mauritius' National Computer Board is also working to increase computer literacy through a cyber-bus program that involves an Internet-equipped bus equipped with computers roaming the island, which is smaller than Rhode Island. The bus is part of a three-year campaign to develop a "computer culture" on the island. Arvindnath Rosunee of the University of Mauritius reports that the island produces no more than 600 qualified IT specialists annually, even though the university increased the size of its computer engineering department by 100%. Still, Indian computer firms are hiring Mauritians because of their wage scale and fluency in both French and English. Meanwhile, the World Bank in May loaned the Mauritius $40 million to improve schools and provide more computers, while MIT has set up a virtual learning center at the University of Mauritius that gives students access to MIT course materials. "Computer engineering is a field where we can put our creativity and logic to use," says Karuna Boyonauth, a 20-year-old University of Mauritius student.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Mother Knows Best: From Deep Sea to Deep Space"
Forbes ASAP (10/07/02) Vol. 170, No. 7, P. 28; Martin, Richard
Researchers are working on a micro-electrical mechanical (MEMS) system that mimics the lateral line sensory system in fish and some amphibious creatures. In fish, the lateral line is composed of a long string of hair-cell filaments running the length of the body. As the fish moves through the water, these filaments bend one way or the other, sending signals to the brain about the presence of nearby objects, water current, and other environmental conditions. Since these receptors send only binary on-off signals, the scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reason they will be able to create a similar system using MEMS, which can both sense and respond to the environment they are placed in. Although basically the same as integrated circuits used in computer innards, University of Illinois assistant professor Chang Liu says MEMS can be likened to nerves in the eyes and skin, while pure integrated circuits perform strictly brain-like functions. Liu and his colleague, professor Fred Delcomyn, will test their system on an underwater robot being developed at MIT. MEMS research is also being advanced at NASA, where scientists are trying to develop self-configuring sensors. Deployed on interplanetary probes, they could morph to meet the specific environmental situations found on other planets. NASA's biomimetic research hopes to replicate the self-repair and latent intelligence characteristics found in biological designs because they would be of great value in space applications.
- "Machine Intelligence and the Turing Test"
IBM Systems Journal (09/02) Vol. 41, No. 3, P. 524; Brackenbury, I.; Ravin, Y.
Using the Turing test as an evaluative tool, six technologies have been identified that could boost the practical value of computers. Natural language understanding (NLU) would enable computers to derive meaning from text, but their interpretation of semantics is limited, although progress has been reported in semantic representations of small units (people, places, organizations, temporal expressions), symbolic and statistically-based machine learning, and language translation and disambiguation; inferences taken from world knowledge is the next probable NLU breakthrough. Knowledge representation (KR) is critical to infusing computers with common sense, a task complicated by the many kinds of knowledge (declarative, social, visual, and procedural) that exist. IBM and other labs have devised ways to build declarative KR systems, and these systems possess a knowledge base layer that covers most domains, while each domain is supplemented with specific knowledge. In order to give machines reasoning abilities, the myriad skills that make up human reasoning--simple and complex inference, planning and problem solving, plan recognition and explicit plan reasoning, creativity, and the application of recipes--must be fully understood and considered; one sign of progress is Carnegie Mellon University's Soar system, which focuses on improving performance by combining rule-based problem solving with learning and chunking mechanisms. Knowledge acquisition (KA) or learning, which can be both supervised and unsupervised, is another necessary element of artificial intelligence: Notable achievements in this area include the University of Pennsylvania's Treebank, which supplies parse trees for roughly 40,000 sentences; and the Cyc knowledge base, which currently comprises 1 million facts. Since new knowledge is needed daily, KA must be essential to any system and its ability to handle the demands of implemented applications. Dialogue management technology is supposed to analyze the utterances of users so that an appropriate response can be worked out and sent. Finally, a computer that can interpret and comprehend a user's emotional states through various cues can enhance user-computer interaction with techniques such as help messages and more authentic-sounding computer speech.
- "The Future of Wearable Computers"
Futurist (10/02) Vol. 36, No. 5, P. 68; Cristol, Hope
Wearable computing is poised to expand into many diverse applications. Thad Starner of the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing reports that users can access information much faster and more efficiently with wearable electronics, while the addition of cameras and microphones could boost their practical value, particularly as "intelligent assistants" that boast more reliability, efficiency, and organization than human secretaries. "The idea is to make...something that can watch your environment, watch what you're doing, have some sort of idea of your commitments and your goals, and try to make your interactions with the physical and virtual worlds seamless," he explains. Examples of wearable computing already in use include mobile MP3 music players and land surveying equipment that displays data legible in direct sunlight. Starner anticipates a general-purpose "body network" that will allow consumers to combine multiple electronics into a single device. Future wearable computers could screen phone calls and send caller ID and messages to a heads-up monitor that can be fitted to eyeglasses. By being aware of conversations, the device could also allow the wearer to schedule appointments faster by bringing up a calendar related to the conversations.