Welcome to the November 10, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Cops Enlist HAL in Fight Against Crime
silicon.com (11/05/08) Heath, Nick
In an effort to explore how artificial intelligence (AI) can improve digital forensics, the U.K.-funded Cyber Security Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) will examine the use of AI in Web counter-terrorism surveillance, preventing Internet fraud, protecting identities online, and online data mining. KTN will examine how artificial neural networks can intelligently combine evidence from different online sources and databases, and how particle swarm intelligence can probe information shared by groups on social networks. KTN also will research how autonomous agents could preserve images of hard drives and extract useful information from networks. KTN expects that AI will be a necessity for businesses and law enforcement looking to understand the massive amounts of information being generated on the Web, in public databases, and on corporate networks. To achieve this level of AI, KTN is establishing an AI and forensics special-interest group to enable forensics and AI experts to discuss how AI can shape digital forensics in the future. KTN director Nigel Jones says that today's vast, distributed networks offer access to a wide variety of data, but processing and mining that data is problematic. Jones says KTN also will propose a framework for how AI tools should be used in criminal investigations to ensure evidence remains admissible in court.
IBM Aims to Counter Researcher Shortage in India
IDG News Service (11/06/08) Ribeiro, John
The low number of Ph.D.s in computer science, information technology, electrical engineering, and related areas in India has become a concern for IBM India Research Laboratory (IRL). On Thursday, IRL announced the Blue Scholar Program, which will offer engineering graduates and postgraduate students in computer science a two-year internship at the lab, and the option of obtaining a regular job at the lab when they complete the program. "We expect that they will develop a passion for research, and hope that some of them may even go for a Ph.D. program," says IRL director Manish Gupta. Most graduates pursue high-paying jobs in India's software outsourcing industry or in industries such as financial services. IRL will offer competitive stipends and salaries. The country produces 150,000 computer science-related graduates annually, but only about 50 students earn doctorates in such areas of study each year, says Vidya Natampally at Microsoft Research India, which also offers research programs.
Computer Method May Help Humans Achieve Energy Independence From Fossil Fuels
Scientific Frontline (11/07/08) Vu, Linda
Minuscule nanostructures could provide a cost-efficient resource for tapping solar energy and thus remove our dependence on fossil fuels. The Linear Scaling Three Dimensional Fragment (LS3DF) method has been developed by researchers in the Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division to gain insights into nanostructures' energy-harvesting potential. LS3DF project leader Lin-Wang Wang says LS3DF offers a more efficient way for calculating energy potential than traditional techniques through its basis on the observation that the total energy of a large nanostructure system can be split into small segments, each of which can be calculated separately. The total energy of the large system is composed of electrostatic energy and quantum mechanical energy, and the LS3DF technique determines the structure's total quantum mechanical energy by dividing the entire structure into small fragments, applying its algorithm to each individual fragment, and then blending the results of the fragments to get a total for the whole system. The system's electrostatic energy is solved independently from the quantum mechanical energy, and the structure's total energy potential is yielded from the combination of both energy results. Through testing on several U.S. supercomputers, the LS3DF method was found to work hundreds to thousands of times faster than traditional density functional theory calculations for systems with tens of thousands of atoms while producing essentially the same results. Wang says nanostructure systems are less expensive to produce than the crystal thin films employed in current solar cell designs, but are equal in terms of material purity. The versatility of nanostructures also allows them to assume multiple functions, and these properties could lead to more efficient solar cell designs.
Preventing Traffic Accidents Before They Happen?
ICT Results (11/05/08)
European researchers working on the I-WAY project have developed a new automotive safety system that will alert drivers to potential hazards using information from the car, other vehicles on the road, and roadside infrastructure as part of a system intended to prevent traffic accidents. I-WAY is designed to give drivers early warnings of potential accidents, helping drivers avoid collisions and other problems. "We use information from in-vehicle sensors, car-to-car communication, and communication with roadside infrastructure to create a picture of driving conditions in real time," says I-WAY project coordinator Andrea Migliavacca. I-WAY features a video system for road observation, which is used to ensure that the driver stays in the correct lane. It is just one of a series of subsystems the I-WAY platform uses. Migliavacca says the I-WAY project was not looking to reinvent the wheel, and used systems developed by other European projects when possible. The car-to-car communication system turns other road users into scouts, broadcasting information on hazards when it encounters one so other cars on the road can alert their drivers of the danger, such as oncoming lane closures, temporarily lowered speed limits, road conditions, and traffic jams. Meanwhile, roadside sensors and communication systems used by highway control centers to monitor road conditions also transmit information to drivers. The I-WAY team also developed in-car cameras to monitor the driver, and grip and electrocardiogram sensors on the steering wheel to detect when the driver is too sleepy or stressed to drive.
UPC Leads a European Project to Create the Technology for Future Mobile Networks
Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (11/07/08)
The European ROCKET project is working to improve future mobile networks by making it possible for mobile terminals and base stations to determine whether they can use frequency bands at their location, which would speed up information transmission. The other focus is to use very small and affordable relay terminals to increase the performance of wireless networks. The smaller relay terminals could be installed on traffic signals or street lights, and mobile telephones and notebook computers could act as relays and ultimately offer fewer instances of limited access. The wireless communications solutions would have the capacity to transmit at more than 100 Mbps and possibly have peak speeds of 1 Gbps. Pocket computers, notebooks, electronic organizers, and PDAs would benefit from the technology. The European Union Seventh Framework Program has contributed 3 million euros to ROCKET, and participants include Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Spain, the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, and Motorola Labs.
Profile: Luis von Ahn
BusinessWeek (11/03/08) Scanlon, Jessie
Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Luis von Ahn has developed digitization software that could put the New York Times' entire archive, which dates back to 1851, online by late 2009. The newspaper has been using typists to digitize its archive, and in 10 years they have been able to digitize 27 years of articles. Von Ahn's software will process 129 years in less than 24 months. Von Ahn's research focuses on what he calls "human computation." He develops Web-based programs that take advantage of human abilities, such as reading or knowing common-sense facts, and then aggregating that knowledge to solve large-scale, ongoing problems in computer science. Von Ahn's first breakthrough technology, the Captcha, developed with von Ahn's thesis advisor Manuel Blum in 2000, is used by 60,000 Web sites to verify that the entity filling out a Web registration form is in fact a human. However, von Ahn released ReCaptcha, an updated version of the technology that replaced Captcha's random letters with words from library archives, and now the New York Times' archive, that computers were not able to read, helping complete digitization projects. Another example of human computation is von Ahn's ESP Game, in which two players are shown the same image and asked to type in descriptive labels. When the labels match, the players are awarded points and shown another image. The game helps generate tags for online images.
E-Voting Backers, Watchdogs Hope to Smooth Out Bumps Next Time
Computerworld (11/10/08) Weiss, Todd R.
Electronic-voting watchdog groups reported no major technological failures during last Tuesday's U.S. presidential election, although there were a few scattered problems with touch-screen and optical-scan voting machines. For example, Ohio officials reported minor problems with voter-verifiable paper printouts generated by tough-screen systems, while Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey also reported minor voting machine breakdowns during the election. National Association of State Election Directors executive director Doug Lewis said it was a normal election day and dismissed the few problems as "not systemic." Nevertheless, Fortify Software chief scientist Brian Chess called on Congress to pass strict national standards for e-voting systems. "We need to test ways the machines could fail and the reliability of the machines in a true election environment," Chess says. ACM U.S. Public Policy Committee chair Eugene Spafford says it is unclear whether fixing voting systems will be a top priority for incoming government officials. "We have so many other pressing national concerns that are going to require attention first," Spafford says. "I wonder whether this will bubble up high enough to get addressed soon."
Windows 7 Knows Where You Are
CNet (11/07/08) Fried, Ina
Windows 7 will offer tools that support the ability to pinpoint the location of users. Such location-based information could be used to improve search engine queries among other users, but it also raises privacy concerns. Windows 7 will feature an application programming interface (API) for sensors and a second API for location, enabling it to obtain location information through a variety of channels, including GPS, Wi-Fi, and cellular triangulation. However, a broader use of location-based services could create a new range of privacy concerns. These issues, and how to solve them, was the focus of a discussion at the recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conference. Windows 7 will provide a variety of control options, such as turning off location services by default, and the ability to limit such services only to specific users or only to applications, but the operating system does not allow users to restrict location information access to only certain applications. Microsoft's Alec Berntson says this is because Windows does not have a reliable means of determining that an application is what it says it is, so any attempt to limit the location to a specific application could be fooled. One attendee suggested that Microsoft notify users when an application requests location information, which Berntson says is possible but is not on Microsoft's roadmap.
National Taiwan University Invents World's Fastest System on a Chip
Taiwan News (11/04/08)
National Taiwan University researchers have combined RF front-end circuits and an antenna array to develop what they say is the world's fastest system on a chip. They say the chip has a transmission speed that is 100 times as fast as Wi-Fi and 350 times as fast as a 3.5G cell phone. The chip measures 0.5 millimeters, one-tenth the size of existing chips, and costs less than one-tenth that of the traditional communication module. The chip also consumes less power than other products. The researchers see a big market for the chip in portable communications products. The chip can be used to connect domestic audio-visual facilities and instantly transmit to TV screens at home, download high-quality movies to a cell phone in a couple of seconds, and quickly upload thousands of pictures from a digital camera to a computer. The chip can download a 4GB DVD film to a computer in 10 seconds, compared with 1.5 hours for ADSL, two hours for Wi-Fi, and 4.5 hours for Bluetooth.
Driving a Hard Bargain for Data
Many corporations, organizations, and individuals continue to dispose of or sell computers on the second-hand market with the data intact, according to Andrew Jones, head of information security research at British Telecommunications in the United Kingdom, Glenn Dardick of Longwood University in Virginia, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia's Craig Valli, and the University of Glamorgan's Iain Sutherland. The failure to wipe the actual data using digital shredding software beforehand exposes them to commercial sabotage, identity theft, and even political compromise. The researchers analyzed data remaining on hard disks obtained on second-hand markets and found that only 33 percent had been effectively wiped clean, down from 45 percent a year ago. "The research revealed that a significant proportion of the disks that were examined still contained considerable amounts of information, much of which would have been of a sensitive nature to the organization or individual that had previously owned the disk," the researchers say. The team says government, industry, and academia should start public awareness campaigns about the issue to improve data security.
New Device to Improve Transistor Quality
University of Southampton (ECS) (11/06/08) Lewis, Joyce
Engineers at the University of Southampton have developed a new configurable chip that can fix the problems of newly manufactured transistors. Batches of transistors often vary greatly in their performance. Designers simulate how new chips will perform, then put the silicon wafers under rigorous electrical testing to make sure that they work. "One of the biggest challenges we face when shrinking devices in these new technology nodes is that there is increasing variability in the resulting devices and this is causing unacceptably poor yields in the circuits being produced--particularly in analogue and mixed signal devices where performance is at a premium," says Southampton professor Peter Wilson. Wilson worked with Reuben Wilcock to develop the Configurable Analogue Transistor (CAT), which can be used in batches of transistors and improve variability by up to 80 percent. CAT works with computers and mobile phones, and will reconfigure them so that they continue to work. "For example, remote circuits in satellites and sensor devices can be 'reprogrammed' and effectively recalibrated to take account of changing characteristics over time and environmental conditions," Wilson says.
Microsoft Research and Their Secret Projects
ZDNet (11/04/08) Whittaker, Zack
Microsoft Research is quietly investigating a wide variety of technologies that may or may not end up becoming a central part of our everyday lives. For example, by combining three-dimensional (3D) face modeling with a two-dimensional portrait photo, a new engine will be able to output a full 3D image of a face. With enough applied mathematics and rendering options, this technology could enable the next generation of medical students and forensic anthropologists to enhance their work to an entirely new level. Meanwhile, the Interactive Image Cutout tool could change how we manipulate and edit photos. Currently, removing an object from an image takes time, precision, and skill, and even then, with lighting and other objects, the process is difficult. The Interactive Image Cutout tool discerns image edges, color similarities, and grading information for quick and easy editing, separates the cutout from the background for high-quality intermediate results, and allow users to easily refine the cutout's boundaries by using fewer polygon vertices. Another project, WiFi Location Determination, or Locadio, uses Wi-Fi signal strength-based technology to locate objects inside buildings.
Project Shows Best Way to Start
Scripps Howard News Service (11/03/08) Roth, Mark
Carnegie Mellon University professor Carlos Guestrin has developed a computer algorithm that can perform tasks such as determining the best way to detect water contamination or which political blogs do the best job of keeping up with developments in the news. The key to Guestrin's algorithm is that it can assemble the maximum amount of information with the least effort. Guestrin started working on the project four years ago while doing research for Intel. Scientists wanted to measure the climate variations in California's redwood forests by installing a network of wireless sensors. Guestrin developed an algorithm that determined the best places to put the sensors, factoring in the law of diminishing returns. "I thought maybe I'd do a project where I'd work with them a month on this, and four years later, we're into something much bigger and more elaborate and interesting than I thought I could possibly get into," he says. Knowing the minimum number of sensors needed to get optimal information can be particularly important when the measurement devices are expensive. Cost was a key issue when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wanted to know the best way to detect contamination in urban water systems. Guestrin determined that there were 12,000 possible locations to put sensors. He used his algorithm to show officials that they could obtain solid research on water contamination using as few as 19 sensors.
In Chaotic Computing, Anarchy Rules OK
New Scientist (10/29/08) No. 2860, P. 40; Graham-Rowe, Duncan
Building next-generation computer processors by tapping the electronic parallel of chaotic weather systems is the goal of a team of physicists in the United States and India led by William Ditto of the University of Florida in Gainesville. Such processors would be vastly more powerful than their conventional chip equivalents, as well as self-reparable, through their ability to channel all their computational muscle into the task at hand and then reassign it as soon as a different chore comes up. The unpredictability of chaotic systems is the result of their sensitivity to the most infinitesimal influences, which inspired Ditto and Sudeshna Sinha of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai to consider the construction of a circuit that exhibited chaotic behavior that could be harnessed for practical applications. Ditto and Sinha conceived of a chaotic logic gate with two inputs and one output like a conventional gate, but composed of a chaotic element or chaogate. When the chaogate receives its input signals, the internal chaotic circuit starts oscillating and quickly stabilizes at a value that relies on the inputs and a control signal. The research team calculated that changing the control signal's setting would enable the chaogate to be transformed into any desirable logic gate, and a prototype chaogate proved the concept's feasibility. Ditto is currently engaged in the commercialization of the technology and the fabrication of prototype circuits, and one of the promised advantages of chaotic logic is the dramatically reduced cost of producing custom chips. If a chip containing chaotic logic gates suffers damage, performance need not be affected as the circuits can be reconfigured to bypass the damaged area. Ditto's team has developed a method to use "chameleon" logic circuits to store data, producing digital memory that offers greater compactness than conventional memory and that also can retrieve data faster.
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