Welcome to the January 31, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
European Project Keeps Personal Details Private
eWeek Europe (United Kingdom) (01/31/11) Eric Doyle
The European Union recently launched the four-year ABC4Trust project, which will use encryption technology developed by IBM Research, academic institutions, Microsoft, and others to increase online privacy by requiring that users submit only essential data. The project will be piloted by a secondary school in Soderhamn, Sweden, and at the Research Academic Computer Technology Institute in Patras, Greece, where students will use the Internet without unintentionally revealing personal information. The ABC4Trust program uses cryptographic algorithms, such as IBM's Identity Mixer and Microsoft's U-Prove, to protect a user's identity, including personal traits and behavior profiles. "With technologies like Identity Mixer, we provide the technical capabilities to bring not only strong security to Internet services, but--at the same time--also better privacy," says IBM Research, Zurich's Jan Camanisch. "Making use of more than 10 years of research and development, we are now going to deploy these solutions in practice and address usability and interoperability."
Unemployment Among Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Was Lower Than Among the General Population in 2008
National Science Foundation (01/27/11) Bobbie Mixon
A recent U.S. National Science Foundation report found that the economic recession did not impact people with doctoral degrees in science, engineering, and health (SEH) as much as it did the general population. According to the report, "Unemployment Among Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Remained Below the National Average in 2008," the unemployment rate for SEH doctorate holders was 1.7 percent in October 2008, compared to the national average of 6.6 percent. In 2008, there were more than 660,000 SEH doctorate recipients, out of a total of about 752,000 nationwide, who were employed or seeking work. In addition, the number of people employed or seeking employment was 89.7 percent for women with SEH doctorate degrees and 87.4 percent for men with the same degrees. Although female SEH doctorate holders were less likely to be employed full time, they were more likely to have part-time employment. Four-year educational institutions were the most common place of employment for SEH doctorate holders in 2008 at 41.4 percent, while private for-profit firms employed about 32.6 percent of SEH doctorate recipients.
'Radical Redesign' Urged for Future Computers
IDG News Service (01/29/11) Joab Jackson
University of Maryland professor Uzi Vishkin believes that computer architecture needs to be redesigned in order to effectively use multicore processors. "The recent dramatic shift from single-processor computer systems to many-processor parallel ones requires reinventing much of computer science to build and program the new systems," Vishkin says. He says the current computer architecture is limited because it only allows one instruction to be completed at a time. Vishkin's new architecture, known as Immediate Concurrent Execution (ICE), would use parallel computing to execute an indefinite number of instructions at any given time. He says that ICE enables developers to "dream up any number of instructions as long as the input for one is not the output for the another." The ICE architecture would require new hardware designs, including chips with a high-bandwidth, a low-latency network between the processors and memory, and a single processor core that could control all the other cores.
New Transistor for Plastic Electronics Exhibits the Best of Both Worlds
Georgia Tech News (01/27/11) David Terraso
Georgia Tech researchers have developed a method for combining top-gate organic field-effect transistors with a bilayer gate insulator, enabling the transistors to function with increased stability while maintaining a consistent current. The method also enables the transistors to be mass produced, making it more compatible with the plastic products they power. The researchers used a standard semiconductor, but changed the gate dielectric, which is a major component of transistor performance. "Rather than using a single dielectric material, as many have done in the past, we developed a bilayer gate dielectric," says Georgia Tech professor Bernard Kippelen. The bilayer dielectric is composed of a fluorinated polymer and a high-k metal-oxide layer created by atomic layer deposition. When used individually, the two substances have considerable drawbacks, but the researchers found that when they are used together, the negative aspects of the substances cancel each other out. The researchers found that the bilayer showed barely any degradation over time. Kippelen says the new transistors could be used in smart bandages, radio-frequency identification tags, plastic solar cells, light emitters for smart cards, and any application that requires stable power and a flexible surface.
Energy-Efficient Intelligent House That Can Monitor Health
University of Hertfordshire (01/27/11) Helene Murphy
University of Hertfordshire scientists have developed InterHome, an energy-efficient smart home to monitor the health of its occupants. InterHome, which incorporates embedded devices and standard home automation systems, is billed as the first home in the United Kingdom that is capable of learning from its occupants and taking decisive actions. The smart home features a secure and energy-efficient living environment, and can send alerts when an occupant has fallen or is suffering from a stroke. InterHome makes use of a touchscreen user control panel that allows the home to be monitored and controlled via a Web browser, smartphone, or SMS-capable mobile device. "The technology enables the system to learn rapidly when we need the lights on or whether we are at home or at work and how the house needs to be at certain times of the day," says Hertfordshire's Johann Siau. "If we forget to lock the front door or turn off the lights, it can text us and our response can reprogram the system."
Stanford and Intel Test the Boundaries of Visual Computing
Stanford Report (CA) (01/27/11) Andrew Myers
Researchers from Intel and Stanford University are collaborating on a five-year, $10 million project to advance the field of visual computing. "We will focus on visual computing, user experience, and user interaction, with a range of devices that will emerge in the next decade," says Stanford professor Pat Hanrahan. The research is part of a broader $100 million project, funded by Intel and involving several U.S. universities, to promote innovation in computing and communications. The Stanford researchers hope to develop more advanced cell phone cameras, collaborative video games, and life-like computer simulations. "Furthermore, these ever faster, more powerful computers will mean the realism is real time," Hanrahan says. He says the research also could have applications in crowdsourcing and law enforcement. In the future, "our whole lives will be augmented and social networking will get more social," Hanrahan says. "Facebook might become a virtual world where we meet with friends online."
A Clearer Picture of Vision
MIT News (01/28/11) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Ruth Rosenholtz recently presented a new mathematical model of how the brain summarizes the content of retinal images. The model can predict the visual system's failure on certain types of image-processing tasks, a sign that it captures some aspect of human cognition. Rosenholtz's model is designed to deal with the reduced accuracy of vision on the periphery, applying statistical formulas to "patchy" vision fields. It includes statistics on the orientation of features, feature size, brightness, and color. The new technique is very efficient, because it can store 1,000 statistics on each patch in the visual field, but with only one-90th as many virtual neurons as the brain would need to store the same amount of data. In testing, the degree of difference between the statistics of different patches is a good indicator of how quickly subjects can find a target object. Rosenholtz says the model is based on a group of statistics commonly used to describe visual data in computer vision research.
Resolution Urges White House to Keep UN Away From Net
National Journal (01/26/11) Juliana Gruenwald
U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) has introduced a non-binding resolution that calls on the Obama administration to oppose the United Nations' (UN's) efforts to take control over the governance of the Internet. Bono Mack says some countries could use the UN and other international entities to support their efforts to block their citizens' access to information, crack down on political dissent, and maintain obsolete communications structures. "It has become increasingly clear that international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations, have aspirations to become the epicenter of Internet governance," she says. "And I'm going to do everything I can to make sure this never happens." Bono Mack introduced a similar resolution during the last Congress. The resolution comes after Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers CEO Rod Beckstrom asked the UN to continue to support the organization and its process of working with Internet stakeholders and the governments of various nations. "The multi-stakeholder model is not the problem. It's the solution," Beckstrom says.
Software Could Help Prevent Disaster in Sinking Cities
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (01/25/11)
Software designed to analyze satellite images gathered over several years will be used to study the shifting of land in fast-growing cities in China. The University of Nottingham Ningbo, China's Andrew Sowter is developing the program, which will be able to show Chinese authorities exactly where land is shifting due to the weight of buildings, and by how much. Sowter is using the technology to assess the extent to which the coastal city of Ningbo is sinking, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China has funded research to study Shanghai. Coastal cities such as Shanghai are vulnerable to sinking because that are built on marshy soil. "We are advancing and refining existing computer programs so that we can identify risks with greater confidence of the accuracy of the results," Sowter says. "Rather than just measuring the problem, we are also improving the models to map and identify priority areas." He says the software could be used to assess other land risks, such as earthquakes, flooding, deformation from mining, and glaciers movements.
Graphene and 'Spintronics' Combo Looks Promising
American Institute of Physics (01/25/11)
Physicists from the City University of Hong Kong and the University of Science and Technology of China have found an easier way to generate a spin current in graphene. The team uses spin splitting in monolayer graphene generated by ferromagnetic proximity effect and adiabatic quantum pumping. By varying the Fermi energy, the researchers were able to control the degree of polarization of the spin current. The development is a breakthrough for carrying information in a graphene spintronic device. Graphene, which is of great interest to the semiconductor and data storage industries, is very strong and also allows for faster electric currents. "There is strong research interest in spintronic devices that process information using electron spins, because these novel devices offer better performance than traditional electronic devices and will likely replace them one day," says City University's Kwok Sum Chan. "Graphene is an important material for spintronic devices because its electron spin can maintain its direction for a long time and, as a result, information stored isn't easily lost."
Southampton Scientists Develop Control System to Allow Spacecraft to Think for Themselves
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (01/25/11)
Engineers will be able to program autonomous satellites and spacecraft to think for themselves using a control system developed at the University of Southampton. Sysbrain is a cognitive software system designed for controlling intelligent machines. Software agents will be able to use natural language programming to read special English language technical documents on control methods. As a result, vehicles will have advanced guidance, navigation, and feedback capabilities that will prevent them from having collisions, as well as agent-based control with mission execution capabilities and the ability to recognize and configure faults. "This is the world's first publishing system of technical knowledge for machines and opens the way for engineers to publish control instructions to machines directly," says professor Sandor Veres. "Sysbrain is a special breed of software agents with unique features such as natural language programming to create them, human-like reasoning, and, most importantly, they can read special English language documents in 'system English' or 'sEnglish.'" Authors will be able to put their sEnglish documents on the Web as publications for Sysbrain to read. The technology also could be used for autonomous underwater, ground, and aerial vehicles.
Intel to Invest $100M in U.S. University Research
Computerworld (01/26/11) Sharon Gaudin
Intel announced plans to invest $100 million over the next five years into U.S. university research. Each participating university will receive $2.5 million a year for five years, with a review process to be conducted after the third year. Intel want to establish Intel Science and Technology Centers at several universities, starting with Stanford University. "They're all being hit with major budget cuts and this is consistent with Intel's view of investing in the down part of the cycle," says Intel's Justin Ratter. Each university will be assigned a different specific area of research, such as visual computing, on perceptual computing, mobile computing, security, three-dimensional technologies, brain-controlled computer chips, and robotics. "Our new approach should allow us to quickly and dynamically invest in the most promising academic work," Rattner says.
Robots Get Ready for Mass Markets
Science Business (01/24/11) Fabrice Delaye
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS), Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory, Distributed Intelligent Systems and Algorithms Laboratory, and the Biorobotics Laboratory are collaborating to launch the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR), which is aimed at designing robots based on nature. NCCR also will work with ETH Zurich, the University of Zurich, and the artificial intelligence institute ISDIA. The researchers want to design robots that can adapt as well as cooperate. LIS director Dario Floreano recently had a breakthrough involving robotic evolution, in which basic building blocks of software are selected for as they succeed, which led to the emergence of a type of intelligence. Floreano's evolutionary robotics research is focusing on the synthesis of analog electrical circuits, of neural controllers that learn, the reverse engineering of genetic and metabolic networks, and biomedical signal processing. Floreano's researcher team is developing insect-like robots, working with Lausanne University entomologist Laurent Keller. They have developed a fly-like robot that weighs less than 10 grams, equipped with cameras and sensors.
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