Welcome to the April 27, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
In U.S.-Russia Deal, Nuclear Communication System May Be Used for Cybersecurity
Washington Post (04/27/12) Ellen Nakashima
U.S. and Russian negotiators are close to completing a deal in which a secure communications channel originally established to prevent misperceptions that might lead to a nuclear conflict will be expanded to accommodate cybersecurity. U.S. officials and experts from both countries say the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center would be a major step forward in the initiative to guarantee that misunderstandings in cyberspace do not escalate to full hostilities. The system features computer terminals at the U.S. State Department and the Russian Defense Ministry that are manned 24 hours a day, and it permits the rapid translation of electronic messages to key officials. Officials say that in the event of a cyberincident, the communications channel could be triggered if either Russia or the U.S. identifies seemingly hostile cyberactivity. The channel's use would only be mandated if the activity is of "such substantial concern that it could be perceived as threatening national security," according to an Obama administration official. The official notes the Russians asked for a phone-based hotline between the White House and the Kremlin for cyberincidents that is separate from the nuclear hotline. The pact would be the first between the U.S. and another nation that aims to lower the likelihood of a cyberconflict.
Computer Surveillance Will Help Keep an Eye on National Security
Queensland University of Technology (04/26/12) Stephanie Harrington
Technology that combines two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) video images taken from a variety of challenging environments will make it easier to identify people who are not facing cameras, according to Queensland University of Technology researchers. Queensland professors Sridha Sridharan and Clinton Fookes plan to develop mathematical algorithms that will make it possible to take features from video and convert them into a model capable of recognizing and matching facial features. "What we are trying to do is use multiple cameras in space to reconstruct a face in 3D, or use multiple images over time of the same face to reconstruct into 3D," Fookes says. "Once we have the information, the system will then be able to identify a shortlist of possible candidates and it will then be up to a human observer to authenticate the correct match." The result of the project will be a set of tools for facial analysis in visual surveillance and video content extraction applications. The surveillance technology would benefit law enforcement agencies, which often struggle with poor quality video and images during investigations.
Tiny Crystal Revolutionizes Computing
University of Sydney (04/26/12) Verity Leatherdale
Researchers at the University of Sydney, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Georgetown University, North Carolina State University, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have developed a tiny crystal that enables a computer to perform calculations that are too difficult for the world's most powerful supercomputers. "The system we have developed has the potential to perform calculations that would require a supercomputer larger than the size of the known universe--and it does it all in a diameter of less than a millimeter," says Sydney's Michael Biercuk. The new quantum simulator is potentially faster than any known computer by 10 to the power of 80, according to the researchers. They say the crystal goes beyond all previous experimental attempts in providing "programmability" and the critical threshold of qubits needed for the simulator to exceed the capability of most supercomputers. The simulator also can be used to gain insights about complex quantum systems. "We are studying the interactions of spins in the field of quantum magnetism--a key problem that underlies new discoveries in materials science for energy, biology, and medicine," Biercuk says.
Tech Needs Girls: World Leaders Draw Up Roadmap for Female Tech Education and Careers Push
International Telecommunication Union (04/26/12)
American, European, African, and Asian leaders recently gathered for a high-level dialogue hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to outline a roadmap to get more girls into technology-oriented studies and careers. ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure says information and communications technology (ICT) jobs are expected to greatly outstrip the supply of professionals to fill them within the next 10 years, which represents "an extraordinary opportunity for girls and young women." He stresses that stereotypes and obsolete attitudes about ICT careers being too difficult, unfeminine, or boring for girls should be abolished. "Encouraging girls into the technology industry will create a positive feedback loop--in turn ... inspiring new role models for the next generation," Toure says. Other factors the dialogue identified as collectively impeding girls' progress in technology fields are a geeky image of the tech discipline promulgated by the popular media, misguided school-age career counseling, a lack of inspirational female role models, and a shortage of supportive home- and workplace-based frameworks. Toure urged the event's participants to work with ITU on a three-year Tech Needs Girls campaign concentrating on the themes of empowerment, equality, education, and employment.
CAPTCHA, Crowdsourcing Pioneer von Ahn Captures Grace Murray Hopper Award
Network World (04/26/12) Bob Brown
Carnegie Mellon University associate professor Luis von Ahn has received ACM's 2011 Grace Murray Hopper Award, which recognizes outstanding work from young computer professionals and comes with a $35,000 prize. Von Ahn's latest project, Duolingo, helps people learn foreign languages while translating text on the Web. "Professor von Ahn's breakthrough research has changed the game for how we use computers," says ACM president Alain Chesnais. "His innovations impact our personal usage of computing devices and make commercial applications of computing more secure." Von Ahn's accomplishments also include the development of the widely used Completely Automated Public Turing Tests to Tell Computers and Humans Apart technology, a challenge-response test designed to ensure that the response is from a person. A second generation of the technology uses crowdsourcing to simultaneously digitize books. Chesnais says von Ahn's "potential for further altering how we work and play in the digital age seems boundless."
MIT News (04/25/12) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Silvio Micali and graduate student Pablo Azar have developed a type of mathematical game called a rational proof, which varies interactive proofs by giving them an economic component. Rational proofs could have implications for cryptography, but they also could suggest new ways to structure incentives in contracts. Research on both interactive proofs and rational proofs falls under the designation of computational-complexity theory, which classifies computational problems according to how hard they are to solve. Although interactive proofs take millions of rounds of questioning, rational proofs enable researchers to establish one round of questioning. With rational proofs, "we have yet another twist, where, if you assign some game-theoretical rationality to the prover, then the proof is yet another thing that we didn't think of in the past," says Weizmann Institute of Science professor Moni Naor. Rational-proof systems that describe simple interactions also could have applications in crowdsourcing, Micali says. He notes that research on rational proofs is just getting started. “Right now, we’ve developed it for problems that are very, very hard," Micali says. "But how about problems that are very, very simple?”
Dynasty? U of W Repeats as National Cyber Defense Champ.
Government Computer News (04/25/12) William Jackson
A team from the University of Washington recently won the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition for the second straight year, defeating regional champions from nine other schools. The tournament, which began in 2005, is part of a nationwide effort to identify and develop cybersecurity talent. The U.S. Air Force Academy finished second in the competition and Texas A&M University came in third. As part of the competition, each team was given an operational network for a fictional Web services hosting company with subsidiary retail operations, such as email, Web sites, data files and users. The network had to be operated and services maintained in the face of outside attacks. The teams were scored on their ability to maintain services while completing business tasks and lost points for failing to meet service-level agreements. In addition, cloud computing was a major component of the competition this year, says University of Washington cybersecurity program director Melody Kadenko. She notes that teamwork helped the Washington team win the competition. “The most important component was how they interact with each other,” Kadenko says. “They already had the knowledge ... but you can’t teach how to get along with somebody.”
NSF, SRC Partner on Failure-Resistant Systems
CCC Blog (04/24/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC) recently announced Failure-Resistant Systems, a joint initiative that seeks proposals for new techniques that would ensure the reliability of systems. The proposals should focus on a system-level cross-layer approach to reliability, and encompass the failure mechanisms of both digital and analog components. Such a technique would potentially offer high reliability and lower power and performance overheads. "By distributing reliability across the system design stack, cross-layer approaches can take advantage of the information available at each level, including even application-level knowledge, to efficiently tolerate errors, aging, and variation," the initiative's solicitation says. "This will allow handling of different physical effects at the most efficient stack layer, and can be adapted to varying application needs, operating environments, and changing hardware state." NSF and SRC plan to fund 15 to 20 awards, each ranging from $300,000 to $400,000, over three years. The deadline for proposals is June 26, 2012.
Vibrating Steering Wheel Guides Drivers While Keeping Their Eyes on the Road
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (04/24/12) Byron Spice
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and AT&T have shown that a vibrating steering wheel is an effective way to keep a driver's eyes on the road by providing an additional means to convey directions from a car's navigation system. The study found that younger drivers were especially less distracted by a navigation system's display screen when they received haptic feedback from the steering wheel. As part of the study, firing the actuators in a clockwise direction instructed the driver to turn right, while firing the actuators counter-clockwise instructed the driver to turn left. The researchers also demonstrated that the proportion of time that a driver's eyes were off of the road was 4 percent less for elder drivers and 9 percent less for younger drivers with the combination of auditory and haptic feedback than with the audio and visual feedback typical of most conventional global positioning systems. "In combination with our ability to measure cognitive load, we can not only design interfaces that people like and make them more efficient, but that also allow them to more easily focus on their task at hand," says CMU professor Anind K. Dey.
Voting Information Project Takes Aim at Open Data, Social Media
Government Technology (04/23/12) Wayne Hanson
The Pew Center on the States and several technology companies recently launched the Voting Information Project (VIP), which enables Foursquare users to receive an "I Voted" badge when they visit their polling places. VIP also provides voters in 37 states with an easier way to find election information via social media and mobile devices. VIP takes state election information and translates it into an open programming format, organizing it into application programming interfaces (APIs). "Right now, we're getting that information from 37 states, and all that information is stored in these feeds--these APIs--so that developers and whoever wants to use that information can create a user-friendly tool out of it," says Pew associate Olivia Doherty. VIP will make election information available on search engines, media sites, get-out-the-vote campaigns, and political party Web sites. In several of the states, including California, Florida, Texas, and Illinois, the counties provide the political data. Doherty hopes that many more local governments will use the tool on their Web sites this year.
Expressive Car Sends Its 'Emotions' Ahead
New Scientist (04/24/12) Michael Reilly
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab are working on a prototype of a car that would be able to communicate its intent to people around the vehicle. The car features working eye-headlights, micro-speakers designed to send narrowly focused audio messages to human drivers and pedestrians, and a Microsoft Kinect game sensor to detect when people pass in front of the vehicle. Cars with robot intelligence would be more user friendly if they were given a voice, eyes, body language, and even an avatar, says the Media Lab's Nicholas Pennycooke. "A car may be perfectly programmed to never hit a person no matter what," he says. "But how does a pedestrian know that the car sees him?" Pennycooke notes that much testing will be needed to determine what combination of sensors, lighting rigs, and heads-up displays best enables people to know what a robot car is going to do next. He also says autonomous vehicles will need to consider the implications of many different real-world situations.
Papers From Collective Intelligence 2012 Conference Now Online
MIT Sloan Management Review (Spring 2012) Leslie Brokaw
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently hosted the Collective Intelligence 2012 conference, which gave collective intelligence experts an opportunity to review papers about behavior that is both collective and intelligent, as well as lay the groundwork for forming a new interdisciplinary field to explore the subject. The organizers of the conference attracted 104 papers, and selected 18 for presentation. The papers that were presented included "Group Foraging in Dynamic Environments," "Collaborative Development in Wikipedia," and "Crowdsourcing Collective Emotional Intelligence." Additional papers were listed as poster papers and plenary abstracts, and the full text of all the papers went online during the conference. "Collective intelligence is an emerging interdisciplinary field that overlaps with many other disciplines, including computer science, management, network science, economics, social psychology, sociology, political science, and biology," says Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. He notes that answers to questions such as what leads groups to become more collectively intelligent can have huge, practical implications. "They can, for instance, help companies become more productive and help societies solve their problems more effectively," Malone says.
Computer-Designed Molecules Point to New Therapy for Cystic Fibrosis
Duke University News (04/21/12) Ashley Yeager
Duke University researchers have developed software that models the proteins involved in cystic fibrosis (CF), which has helped to identify several new molecules that could ease the disease's symptoms. The algorithms predict how well a given molecular structure will block a basic protein-protein interaction that occurs in cystic fibrosis. CF makes the salt and water levels in cells become unbalanced because of a defective protein called the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR). CFTRs are routinely rounded up for recycling in the cell by a protein called CAL that binds to CFTR and removes it. However, defective CFTR proteins in cystic fibrosis patients send a signal that they are faulty, making their recycling rate much higher. The algorithms based on the structure of CAL and similar proteins can quickly generate more molecules for slowing recycling by CAL and increase the pool of potential CF treatments. The algorithms analyzed several thousand potential inhibitors and ranked them based on how strongly they could bind with CAL. The researchers found that many of the algorithm-generated molecules attach more strongly to CAL than the connection between CAL and CFTR that occurs naturally.
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