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Welcome to the March 26, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Software Made to Allow Global Collaboration
The Shorthorn (03/26/14) Krystal-Rose Agu

The expansion of a proposal from University of Texas at Austin (UTA) professor Kaushik De for computing large-scale, big data scientific projects is the focus of a global, multi-institutional effort to apply Production and Distributed Analysis (PanDA) software. De developed PanDA to enable large computing centers from all over the world to automatically collaborate to solve scientific challenges. As part of the big data project, De and colleagues have received U.S. Energy Department funding to incorporate networking capabilities into PanDA. Meanwhile, Russia recently gave Brookhaven National Laboratory scientist Alexei Klimentov a $3.4-million grant to work with the United States in developing improved data management capabilities for PanDA, which De says will broaden a PanDA feature similar to cloud computing while surpassing the capacity of commercial servers. De says many of the consultations he is having with researchers concern ways PanDA can be improved and applied to new problems. PanDA also is being used to scan space for previously undetected dark matter, and UTA professor Jaehoon Yu says he has performed research to determine how to tap computing resources such as PanDA worldwide. "It's just like the World Wide Web," he notes. "It will allow the general public to access the technology."

Artificial Intelligence Challenge: Could a Robot Give Its Own TED Talk?
Network World (03/25/14) Michael Cooney

The TED organization has partnered with X Prize to develop a competition focused on having an artificial intelligence (AI)-based robot "deliver a compelling TED Talk with no human involvement." In a posting of what the contest might look like, X Prize describes a scenario in which a group of judges devises 100 different TED Talk subjects ahead of the conference, while during the event the audience selects one of the subjects, and the competing AIs are tasked with preparing a three-minute talk within 30 minutes. A team would choose how its AI would be presented on stage, while another illustration of its abilities would be demonstrated by having each AI answer some questions from the conference host. Every year at the conference, an interim prize would be given to the best AI presentation until such time that an AI makes a truly stunning TED Talk and is crowned the AI X Prize winner. "Advances in machine learning and AI have made extraordinary progress over the past decade, but we've barely scratched the surface," says X Prize CEO Peter Diamandis. "This global competition could help spur its development across a myriad of areas--including biological research, exploration, education, healthcare, and fields we have not yet even imagined."

DARPA to Mine 'Big Code' to Improve Software Reliability
Government Computer News (03/24/14)

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeks to address the problems of software defects that underlie most system errors and security vulnerabilities through its Mining and Understanding Software Enclaves (MUSE) program. DARPA says the objective of MUSE is to develop new ways of drastically enhancing software correctness and help devise radically different strategies for automatically building and repairing complex software. "Our goal is to apply the principles of big data analytics to identify and understand deep commonalities among the constantly evolving corpus of software drawn from the hundreds of billions of lines of open source code available today," says DARPA program manager Suresh Jagannathan. "We're aiming to treat programs--more precisely, facts about programs--as data, discovering new relationships [enclaves] among this 'big code' to build better, more robust software." DARPA says MUSE aims to generate a community infrastructure that incorporates a specification-mining engine that is in continuous operation and employs "deep program analyses and big data analytics to create a public database containing...inferences about salient properties, behaviors, and vulnerabilities of software drawn from the hundreds of billions of lines of open source code available today."

New Approach Could Stop Websites From Leaking or Stealing Your Data
Technology Review (03/25/14) Tom Simonite

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Raluca Popa says online servers are inherently untrustworthy, and her Mylar system is designed to build Web services that are shielded against data leakage or theft. Services constructed with Mylar keep data on their servers constantly encrypted and only ever decrypt it on a person's computer. "Your data gets encrypted using your password inside your browser before it goes to the server," Popa notes. "If the government asks the company for your data, the server doesn't have the ability to give unencrypted data." Mylar is designed to interoperate with the Meteor Web service builder tool to ease its use by Web developers. Mylar has code running within a person's browser that assumes most information processing and presentation tasks, while also using new cryptographic mechanisms that let a server do useful things with data without decrypting it. A Mylar-built service can search across encrypted data housed on its servers, and it also allows data sharing between individuals via a system that distributes the encryption key in a manner that protects it from being disclosed either to the server or to a communications monitor.

University Launches UK's Most Powerful Computer
Herald Scotland (03/25/14) Brian Donnelly

Edinburgh University is launching the Academic Research Computing High End Resource (Archer), a supercomputer capable of performing more than 1 million billion calculations a second, which will make it the most power computer in the United Kingdom. Archer is replacing the High-End Computing Terascale Resource (Hector) system, which is being upgraded after six years. Archer will conduct research on everything from climate change to the development of eco-friendly aircraft. Archer "is one of the most useful general purpose computers in the world," says Edinburgh University's Alan Simpson. The university notes Archer has more than three times the computing power of Hector, giving it the ability to support big data applications, which the U.K. government has identified as one of its "eight great technologies" for future research. "The University of Edinburgh has for many decades been a pioneer in high-performance computing," says Edinburgh professor Sir Timothy O'Shea. "Now that big data is reaching into an even greater range of areas, we are delighted to have the Archer facility and its support at Edinburgh." Edinburgh professor David Delpy says Archer "will enable researchers to continue to be at the forefront of computational science and make significant contributions in the use of big data to improve understanding across many fields."

Newest Bug Bounty Touts $10K Rewards, Appeals for Help in Finding Flash Flaws
Computerworld (03/23/14) Gregg Keizer

The Internet Bug Bounty (IBB) program, which launched in November 2013 with a first round of funding from Facebook and Microsoft, recently paid $10,000 each to a pair of security researchers for vulnerabilities they found in Flash, the highest-value rewards from the group since its launch. "This shows that the IBB is serious about rewarding research which makes us all safer," says Google Chrome security engineer Chris Evans. IBB currently has a 180-day patch-or-publish guideline, meaning that if a vendor is unable or unwilling to fix a reported flaw, details may be made public. "Not everyone has woken up to this, but when a whitehat researcher discloses an issue, there's a reasonable chance that nefarious actors already know about the vulnerability," Evans says. "Therefore, taking a long time to patch puts everyone at risk." Evans recently called on researchers to help find flaws in Adobe's Flash Player, and he aimed his appeal at researchers who uncover vulnerabilities to sell to government and law enforcement intelligence agencies. Evan says the group is looking for more sponsors. "The more sponsors we have on board, the more money we can inject into the whitehat community in order to make us all safer," he says.

Software Would Make 3D Maps Using Smartphones
Columbus Dispatch (03/24/14) Steve Alexander

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Google have developed software that can create a three-dimensional (3D) map with a smartphone. The software enables the phone's camera and motion sensor to work together to create a grid of data points that become a 3D image. The research is part of Google's Project Tango, a smartphone specifically optimized for 3D mapping. "We will soon be able to get smartphone directions for how to go from one place to another in a building, such as how to go from the entrance to my classroom," says University of Minnesota professor Stergios Roumeliotis. The researchers say the software also could help the blind walk through a building or aid a drone aircraft's navigation systems. Roumeliotis says one interesting aspect of the software is that it uses very little computing power. He says the software "has the potential to become the Google Maps of the indoor world, and this is where we spend most of our time."

Dal Professor Helping Develop Software to Analyze Ancient Music
Global News (Canada) (03/24/14) Julia Wong

Dalhousie University researchers are developing software to analyze medieval music as part of the optical neume recognition project. In the late 10th century, musical notations that denoted notes, pitch, and rhythm were often written above lyrics in neumes. The software can read the neumes using a legend created by Dalhousie researcher Jennifer Bain. "When we want to analyze [music], we're trying to figure out which pieces of music are similar, which are different, how do they fit with the text, are there similarities between different kinds of pieces of music from different parts of the year?" Bain says. The software will make the ancient music, which is fragile, more accessible and easier to research. "This huge amount of data [from the software] is going to give us a much better understanding both of how the notation was developed but also about the repertoire and what was important to people," Bain says. In addition, the software could lead to more research in the field, as well as greater understanding about how music evolved, according to the researchers.

U.S. Agencies, Industry, and Academe Team Up to Compute Media's Future
Chronicle of Higher Education (03/21/14) Jennifer Howard

The U.S. National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) have jointly embarked on the Media Systems project to support computer-enabled research, says NEH's Eva Caldera. The agencies have agreed to "collaboratively leverage research and development [R&D] investments to build an interdisciplinary community of researchers and practitioners who cross over the fields of art, science, humanities, education, and engineering, with a particular awareness of the new possibilities enabled by digital technology," Caldera says. The project has published a study on more than a year's worth of discussions among experts on how to support R&D that will influence the future of media. University of California, Santa Cruz professor Noah Wardrip-Fruin contends the study shows that diverse computational-media activities converge because of "something consistent and integrated," and both industry and scholars agree this element is culturally and economically significant. The study investigates the "opportunities for economic and cultural impact" of computational-media research in a society saturated with mobile technology, digital art, and video games. However, the report also cites "the need for sustained basic and applied computational-media research." The report urges all stakeholders to create a more shared space and more collaborative models for experimentation and supporting computer-enabled R&D.

Computers Spot False Faces Better Than People
University of Toronto (03/21/14) Dominic Ali

A computer system bested humans in recognizing real or fake expressions of pain in a joint study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the University of Toronto. The detection rate for humans was not better than random chance, and training only improved accuracy to 55 percent, the researchers say. However, the computer system attained an accuracy level of 85 percent. The team used a computer-vision system, which could spot the subtle differences between involuntary and voluntary facial movements. "By revealing the dynamics of facial action through machine-vision systems, our approach has the potential to elucidate 'behavioral fingerprints' of the neural-control systems involved in emotional signaling," says lead author and UCSD professor Marian Bartlett. She says the computer-vision system also could be used to detect driver sleepiness, student comprehension of subject matter, or treatment of affective disorder response. "As with causes of pain, these scenarios also generate strong emotions, along with attempts to minimize, mask, and fake such emotions, which may involve 'dual control' of the face," Bartlett says.

Apple Launches New FaceFries App
Simon Fraser University (03/19/14) Carol Thorbes

Simon Fraser University researchers have developed FaceFries, a free Apple iTunes application they say uses advanced image processing, psychological models of personality and emotion, and animation technology to bring the human spark to social media mobile applications. FaceFries takes facial photographs and animates, merges, or modifies them in ways that turn them into realistic three-dimensional animated avatars, says Simon Fraser University researcher Steve DiPaola. "Our mission is to give people a smile and foster creativity and laughter as they capture, create, collect, and share faces," the researchers say. FaceFries uses photos stored on a mobile device, downloaded from the Internet, or taken with a mobile device camera. The user then brings the "face fry" to life by speaking into the microphone of the mobile device. "Your face is your outward representation for what is going on inside you and your eyes, the window to your soul," DiPaola says. "A facial expression represents in a deep way what is on the inside. This is a fun way to explore the 'essence of self.'"

Tiny Transistors for Extreme Environs
University of Utah News (03/20/14) Aditi Risbud

University of Utah electrical engineers say they have fabricated the smallest transistors that can withstand the high temperatures and ionizing radiation found in a nuclear reactor. The devices measure 1 to 6 microns in length, or 500 times smaller than current state-of-the-art microplasma devices, and operate at one-sixth the voltage and at a temperature of up to 1,450 degrees Fahrenheit. Since nuclear radiation ionizes gases into plasma, this extreme environment makes it easier for plasma devices to operate. "This transistor has the potential to start a new class of electronic devices that are happy to work in a nuclear environment," says Utah professor Massood Tabib-Azar. The team deposited layers of a metal alloy to form the gate on a 4-inch glass wafer, then deposited a layer of silicon on top of the gate. The microplasma devices will use a plasma-based connection for communication, and circuits will only be operational when powered up. The researchers say the transistors could enable smartphones to take and collect medical x-rays on a battlefield, and allow devices to measure air quality in real time.

Students to Hack Hardware, Software, and Data to Build Security Skills
Think (03/19/14) Kevin Mayhood

Professors from Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University have designed a comprehensive cybersecurity education program for undergraduate engineering and computer science students. The program will teach students how to analyze, validate, and build secure computer hardware and systems. Students will then be able to use this knowledge to protect their own computers or those of their employer from various types of cyberattacks. "The curriculum is comprehensive and uses a hands-on teaching approach to learning software, hardware, network, and information security," says Cleveland State researcher Sanchita Mal-Sarkar. The curriculum consists of three courses that will put students through a dozen hands-on experiments revealing the vulnerabilities of systems and how to protect them. Students will be given a circuit board to hack, and also will figure out how to protect it. "We agree this is the best way to learn," says Case Western professor Swarup Bhunia. After completing each course, students must finish a grand project that will have teams challenge each other in hacking and protecting a system. The U.S. National Science Foundation awarded grants totaling $200,000 to the researchers to develop and support the courses.

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