Welcome to the June 27, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Supreme Court Cellphone Ruling a Big Win for Digital Privacy
Computerworld (06/25/14) Jaikumar Vijayan
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in a unanimous decision that police must obtain a search warrant before searching through the contents of an arrested person's cellphone, a decision that was applauded by privacy and civil rights groups. The ruling affirms Fourth Amendment protections in the digital age, says Electronic Privacy Information Center attorney Alan Butler. "This is a hugely important decision," he says. "The big takeaway here is that the court recognizes that digital data is very different from its physical analogues." Butler also notes the ruling solidifies the opinion that cellphones and other electronic devices need to be treated differently. The Supreme Court recognizes smartphones are essentially miniature computers with huge amounts of data that travels wherever users go, says Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Hanni Fakhoury. "That recognition will have important implications for future legal challenges concerning the government's use of technology, whether it be cellphone tracking, Stingrays, or [U.S. National Security Agency] surveillance," Fakhoury says. In his ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts said mobile phones are different from other objects held by suspects who have been apprehended. "Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience," Roberts wrote. "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life.'"
Goosebump Sensor Developed by Korean Research Team
BBC News (06/25/14) Leo Kelion
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) researchers have developed a sensor that can measure goosebumps on the human body in real time. The device uses a stick-on transparent conductive polymer to measure how big the bumps are and how long they last. The system works by recording a drop in the sensor's ability to store an electrical charge, known as capacitance, caused by it being deformed by the buckling of the skin's surface. Previous research has shown that goosebumps can be used to deduce changes in a subject's emotional state brought on by music, moves, and other causes. "In the future, human emotions will be regarded like any typical biometric information, including body temperature or blood pressure," says KAIST professor Young Ho-cho. It is suggested the technology could eventually be used to create a kit to personalize advertisements, music, and other services based on the user's reactions.
Collaborative Learning--for Robots
MIT News (06/25/14) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems have written an algorithm that enables independent agents to collaborate on a machine-learning model without aggregating data. Distributed agents, such as robots surveying a building, gather and analyze data independently, and pairs of agents then exchange analyses. This analysis exchange is repeated many times, with the model growing increasingly refined. The distributed algorithm outperformed a standard algorithm that works on data aggregated at a single location in experiments with various data sets. "A single computer has a very difficult optimization problem to solve in order to learn a model from a single giant batch of data, and it can get stuck at bad solutions," says MIT graduate student Trevor Campbell. Although robot collaboration was the impetus for the algorithm, the work also could have applications in big data, enabling distributed servers to merge data analyses without aggregating data at a central location. In addition, the algorithm could be applied to learning problems such as topic modeling, in which a computer uses relative word frequency to classify documents according to topic. It also could enable scattered servers to independently work on documents and generate a collective topic model.
Carnegie Mellon Machine Learning Method Automatically Cuts Boring Parts From Long Consumer and Security Videos
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (06/25/14) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have created a machine-learning algorithm called LiveLight that automatically picks out action in video clips. To evaluate action in video, Livelight seeks visual novelty while disregarding repetitive or eventless sequences. The end result is a video summary similar to a movie trailer that shows the main events, to help users quickly review long videos of events or security camera feeds. As the algorithm processes the video, it creates a content dictionary it uses to determine whether new segments are similar to previously viewed footage. Footage identified as trivial or eventless is excluded from the summary, while novel sequences are included. Although LiveLight can generate summaries automatically, users can opt to perform manual editing, for example, to add visual transitions between notable events. The algorithm could help make use of the growing volume of raw video that currently goes unwatched, and could be particularly applicable to security firms that monitor and review surveillance camera video. "We see this as potentially the ultimate unmanned tool for unlocking video data," says Ph.D. student Bin Zhao, who developed the algorithm along with CMU professor Eric P. Xing.
Next Generation Internet Will Arrive Without Fanfare, Says UMass Amherst Network Architect
University of Massachusetts Amherst (06/24/14) Janet Lathrop
University of Massachusetts Amherst researcher Arun Venkataramani says the transition to a next-generation Internet with features such as improved security and mobility will be seamless. "Each new app or piece of software will be adopted safely by ever-widening circles of users, until one day the old Internet will just be gone and a new one, more deliberately designed and built than the old one, will be up and running," he says. Venkataramani received a two-year, $1.35-million U.S. National Science Foundation grant to develop the next phase of the MobilityFirst project. Together with seven partner institutions, the researchers are testing the new architecture in a context-aware emergency notification system, a content delivery network of public broadcasting stations, and a wireless service provider. Venkataramani says the existing Internet built up gradually over the telephone system, with limited users who did not design the system for security or mobility. MobilityFirst aims to enhance security while enabling users to seamlessly stay connected on various devices over time. One new feature that MobilityFirst will enable is context-based communication, which generalizes name- or address-based communication. Venkataramani says this capability would enable an emergency notification application, for example, to send a targeted emergency message to users in a specific location.
RIKEN's K Computer Tops 2014 Supercomputer Rankings
Asian Scientist (06/26/14)
The K computer at Japan's RIKEN institute took the top spot in the 2014 Graph 500 supercomputer rankings, which were announced June 23 at the International Supercomputing Conference in Leipzig, Germany. The Graph 500 benchmark, first issued in 2010, gauges the ability of supercomputers on data-intensive loads rather than simple speed, with the goal of improving computing involving complex data problems in cybersecurity, medical informatics, data enrichment, social networks, and symbolic networks. Breadth-first graph search, measured by the number of traversed edges per second (TEPS), or the connection between two data points, involves a substantially larger degree of irregular computations than the LINPACK benchmark, which is used in the Top 500 rankings. The K computer was able to solve a breadth-first search of an extremely large graph of 1 trillion nodes and 16 trillion edges in 0.98 seconds, landing it in first place with a score of 17,977 gigaTEPS. Sequoia, at the U.S. Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and Mira, at the U.S. Argonne National Laboratory, followed with scores of 16,599 gigaTEPS and 14,328 gigaTEPS, respectively. The results indicate the K computer excels at regular parallel computing as well as graph analysis and has a wide range of applications.
How to Make Smart Watches Not Worth Stealing
Technology Review (06/23/14) David Talbot
Dartmouth University researchers have developed a prototype device that can identify someone by measuring the electrical resistance of tissues within the wrist. The device is comprised of four pairs of electrodes around the wrist that measure electrical resistance in the body, a unique biometric that is influenced by body composition, flesh thickness, and bone size. After the device measures the correct levels of resistance, it can wirelessly transmit an ID code confirming the wearer's identity. "If I'm wearing the bracelet, my phone would be unlocked without a PIN code, or I could log into my PC or provide a means of access control," says Intel researcher and former Dartmouth University Ph.D. student Cory Cornelius. The technology could allow confirmation that data streaming from the device is coming from the right person, according to University of Illinois researcher Carl Gunter. During testing, the device worked with 98-percent accuracy, which is sufficient for sorting out signals in a cluttered environment.
Computer Spots Rare Diseases in Family Photos
New Scientist (06/24/14) Andy Coghlan
University of Oxford researchers have developed software that can learn to identify rare medical conditions by analyzing a face from a digital photograph. The researchers say the software also should be able to identify unknown genetic disorders if groups of photos in the database share specific facial features. "The idea is to offer it to health systems right across the world because all you need is a computer and a digital photo," says University of Oxford researcher Christoffer Nellaker. The researchers developed the software by feeding a computer-vision algorithm 1,363 publicly available pictures of people with eight genetic disorders, including Down's syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and progeria. The program learned to identify each condition from a pattern of 36 facial features in each photo, such as the shapes of the eyes, brows, lips, and noses. "It automatically analyzes the picture and annotates key feature points, producing from that a description of the face which expands the features that are important for distinctiveness," Nellaker says. The features then are compared with those from patients with confirmed disorders, enabling the software to suggest patterns in new patients. During testing, the software proved to be 93-percent correct in predicting disorders based on photographs of the patient.
Connected Cars Take Research Universities on a Test Drive
Center for Digital Education (06/24/14) Tanya Roscorla
Starting this summer, researchers from the University of Washington (UW), University of Pittsburgh, University of Wisconsin, Madison (UWM), and Colorado State University (CSU) will test drive self-driving, Internet-connected vehicles on their campuses. The project, called the Internet2 of Things project, is designed to determine how universities can use connected cars in existing research. As part of the project, the researchers will explore the Internet of Things and sustainability by collecting terabytes of data in real time. "These new vehicles will really provide a great platform for us to do a lot of exciting research relevant to big data and even optimization of the [university electric vehicle]-tracking systems," says UW professor Yinhai Wang. The researchers will track the movements of vehicles, deepen their understanding of the Internet of Things, and see how low-carbon alternative transportation will function on a smart campus. The project will unite advanced networking, established mechanical engineering research, and the facilities management and service transportation groups in a multi-department collaboration, notes CSU researcher Scott Baily. UWM researchers will focus on a system in which users on campus can check out a vehicle or reserve it online with their university ID.
Cracks Emerge in the Cloud
A*STAR Research (06/18/14)
Users of cloud services might encounter risks related to the sharing of secret URLs, according to researchers at the A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research in Singapore. In an analysis of cloud services providers, the A*STAR team reported that third parties have frequent opportunities to access private data because URLs are saved in various network-based servers, browser histories, and Internet bookmarks. Moreover, the URL recipient may send the link to others without the data owner's consent, the analysis found. The researchers determined that URL shortening for easier sharing on mobile devices also is dangerous because this changes the address into plain text unprotected by encryption. The root cause of cloud security problems lies in the need to balance usability with privacy protection, says A*STAR research team leader Jianying Zhou. "Users should be careful when they share files in the cloud because no system is perfectly secure," he says. "The cloud industry, meanwhile, needs to constantly raise the bar against new attacks while keeping the service as functional as possible."
Facelock: A New Password Alternative Which Plays to the Strengths of Human Memory
University of York researchers have developed Facelock, a password system based on the psychology of facial recognition they say could make conventional passwords obsolete. Humans can recognize familiar faces across a wide range of images, even when the image quality is poor. Facelock exploits this psychological effect to create a new type of authentication system. To register with Facelock, users nominate a set of faces that are well known to them, but are not well known to other people. Facelock combines faces from across a user's domains of familiarity to create a set of faces that are only known to the user, which then becomes the key to unlocking the system. The "lock" consists of a series of face grids with each grid being constructed so that one face is familiar to the user, while the other faces are unfamiliar. The user confirms their identity by touching the familiar face in each grid. The researchers note facial familiarity is very hard to fake and nearly impossible to lose, which makes the system hard to crack and much easier for users than having to remember a password or PIN.
Government Control Is the Big Sticking Point at ICANN Meeting
IDG News Service (06/23/14) Mikael Ricknas
More than 3,300 representatives from around the world are meeting in London this week to discuss the process of the United States relinquishing control of the world's central Domain Name System servers to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The United Kingdom supports less state control of the Internet, while France is pushing for more state control. Success in preparing for how ICANN will take over will occur only through a collaborative bottom-up approach rather than through state-centered regulation, according to U.K. minister for culture, communications and creative industries Ed Vaizey. He says a more state-controlled "bureaucratic World Wide Web of red tape" is doomed to fail. However, France has proposed more radical changes, including the formation of a new general assembly that would decide strategy, approve the budget, and appoint board members to make ICANN a truly international organization. One of the major issues France has is the delegation of .vin and .wine, which are two of the hundreds of new generic top-level domains ICANN is in the process of approving for general use. France wants additional protections for geographic indications, which are used for goods such as cheeses and wines with special qualities associated with their place of origin.
Microsoft Fellow David Steurer Seeks Ultimate Algorithm
Cornell Chronicle (06/19/14) Bill Steele
Cornell University professor David Steurer has been awarded a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship to support research to find the laws of efficient computation, which could result in a new way to solve very hard problems. The award provides $200,000 for two years, in addition to access to software, invitations to conferences, and engagements with Microsoft researchers. Some computer science problems are so complicated that even the fastest computers would take forever to complete the calculation. "It is not clear if we are just overlooking a cleverer algorithm that could solve those problems or if these problems are inherently intractable, meaning it doesn't matter how fast your computer is, you simply cannot solve it," Steurer says. He has already solved many difficult problems with the sum of squares method, which is a way of reasoning about all potential solutions without actually looking at them. Steurer believes this method can be refined to solve bigger challenges such as the approximation problem. If it works, that would disprove the Unique Games Conjecture and lead to a general algorithm that is applicable to any computationally intensive problem. Steurer says this research offers a ray of hope that a unified theory for such problems is possible.
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