Welcome to the March 13, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech to Cure Crop Failure and Look Inside Einstein's Mind?
silicon.com (03/12/09) Ferguson, Tim
Technology will help solve some of the most pressing issues the world is facing, says University of Southampton professor Dame Wendy Hall, president of ACM. Hall has co-written the Grand Challenges report on the economic, environmental, and social problems that technology will help address in the years to come. For example, virtually mapping the external and internal functions of plants as they grow will give researchers new clues about preventing crop failure. Using artificial intelligence and virtual reality to record the whole waking life of an individual on a single computer disc could lead to a new care companion for the elderly. Researchers also are working to virtually recreate past events to gain a better understanding of the underlying circumstances, and people would be able to visit historical locations without having to travel to them. The impact of information technology on infrastructure, food, climate, and personal lives will be similar to the industrial revolution, Hall says. The British Computer Society, the U.K. Computing Research Committee, the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing are all working on the Grand Challenges.
How IBM's Sprucing Up Its 'Social' Side
CNet (03/12/09) Cooper, Charles
IBM researchers are exploring ways of using social computing to encourage greater collaboration among enterprise users in an effort to make it easier for businesses to share data. "Our perspective comes from business," says IBM computer scientist Rod Smith, who heads the emerging Internet technologies research effort. "There are many ecosystems inside the enterprise and we're seeing how they want to expand those connections." At IBM's recent Smarter Web Open House, researchers described a variety of collaborative Web technologies in development. Play-by-Play is a collaborative Web browsing tool that enables users to communicate through instant messaging. Multiple users can connect to each others' browsers and co-browse. The tool features a re-sync feature that enables one user to replay the sequence of Web pages the other user visited. CoScripter uses the same back-end technologies as Play-by-Play to put an encrypted chronological history of the computing tasks run over the course of the day. Privacy-aware MarketPlace can be used on social networking sites to determine the privacy scores, similar to credit scores, of others on the site to let users know who is trustworthy and who to avoid. The Social Networks and Discovery project aims to bring together documents, tags, and other relevant pieces of information to find relationships between people, which could be helpful when building a framework for applications such as recommendation and personalization systems. Lastly, the Blue Spruce project aims to turn the Web browser into a collaborative platform that will allow people to interact in real time and work together and change the page they are viewing.
Web Founder's 'Snooping' Warning
BBC News (03/11/09)
Web pioneer and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee says more protection is needed to prevent Internet snooping and ensure that sensitive data is not misused for commercial gain. "We must not snoop on the Internet," Berners-Lee says. "What is at stake is the integrity of the Internet as a communications medium." Berners-Lee was speaking at a meeting organized by the All Parliamentary Group on Communications, which included members of the British Parliament and various technology experts. The meeting's participants are concerned that technology will enable firms to track what Web sites users visit and share that information with companies for "behavioral advertising." Privacy advocates say the practice is dangerous and that a new code of practice governing how users give consent is insufficient. Berners-Lee says that people reveal very sensitive details in their searches, and that their privacy should not be infringed. Parliament member David Davis says a solution that protects privacy but does not cripple the usefulness of the Internet must be found. Davis says simple encryption of Web information could make a difference, though Web experts say simple encryption would be expensive and significantly reduce Internet speeds.
Humans No Match for Go Bot Overlords
Wired News (03/10/09) Keim, Brandon
Computer programs that play the game of Go have advanced to the point where they can beat professional human players, as demonstrated by recent victories at the Taiwan Open and a Chicago exhibition. These programs employ variations on mathematical methods originally devised by Manhattan Project physicists to shape order from pure randomness. However, the programs' reliance on number crunching ensures that few insights into the function of the human mind can be derived from their performance, says Dartmouth College programmer Bob Hearn. The strategy that artificial intelligence experts historically followed in the development of their Go programs was to attempt to tap pattern recognition principles, but David Doshay with the University of California at Santa Cruz says that guiding computers with human-rules patterns was erroneous from the very start. By harnessing the Monte Carlo method, which consists of random simulations repeated over and over until patterns and probabilities emerge, Go programs became more capable. Crunching the accumulated statistics enables probabilities to take shape, and this information allows the programs to channel more processing power to promising branches and less power to alternatives with less promise. Hearn and others predict that Monte Carlo-based Go programs will continue to improve now that they have started to beat professional players. They project that within no more than a few decades such programs will be capable of trouncing the top players.
Carnegie Mellon's Manuela Veloso Wins Autonomous Agents Research Award
Carnegie Mellon News (03/09/09) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne
Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Manuela M. Veloso has won the 2009 Autonomous Agents Research Award, given by ACM's Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence (SIGART). The award is presented annually in collaboration with the International Conference on Autonomous Agents in recognition of researchers who are doing influential work in autonomous agents, including robots, software agents, or any other system capable of sensing and acting on information from its environment. Veloso studies how robots can learn, plan, and cooperate to accomplish tasks. SIGART says that Veloso's work is particularly noteworthy due to its focus on the effective construction of teams of robot agents that seamlessly integrate cognition, perception, and action into address planning, execution, and learning tasks. Veloso's research into robot soccer has become an important tool for studying how autonomous agents can work together in complex, uncertain environments. "Her impact and visibility have been consistently high over the past two decades for her technical contributions, for her impressive robot teams and for her leadership within the research community," SIGART says.
IT Built Into Your Jewellery
Financial Times - Digital Business (03/12/09) P. 4; Shillingford, Joia
Henry Tirri, Nokia's head of research, says the economic downturn will lead to more investments in collaboration tools, broadband, video, and mobile technology to eliminate the need for travel. Over the next few years, people will move some of their computing functions onto mobile devices, including Internet browsing and media consumption. Tirri says that by 2020, a great deal of technology will be invisible and out of sight, with many computing functions incorporated into everyday objects that people wear and use, such as clothing and jewelry. Almost all businesses will have an information technology architecture that mixes mobile devices that stay close to the user with background systems, which could be part of a cloud-computing network. In government, an increasing amount of services will be available online, which will lead governments to call for some kind of electronic identification card to improve efficiency. Internet use will be dominated by wireless devices, which will require a redesigning of information networks. Tirri says after 2050, information and physical reality will become increasingly intertwined. He says it will only be a matter of time before we can take information from one location, such as the pattern on a shirt, and reconstruct that information in a distant location.
Making Robots Give the Right Glances
Technology Review (03/11/09) Grifantini, Kristina
At the 2009 ACM/IEEE Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) Conference, several research teams are presenting their progress on making robots respond more naturally to people's actions and be easier for humans to understand. The researchers are exploring ways for robots to recognize and mimic human nonverbal communications cues, such as gestures, eye movements, and physical contact. Carnegie Mellon University researchers will present details on experiments involving a robot that uses eye movement to help guide the flow of a conversation with multiple people, which could be important for robots intended to act as receptionists or public guides. Researchers from the Netherlands are focusing on physical contact. Using a small, remote-controlled humanoid robot, the researchers tested the robot by having it try to help volunteers use a computer. The volunteers described the robot as being more humanlike and dependable when it initiated physical contact, such as a shoulder pat or a high five. "We're really looking at building into these robots very humanlike social abilities," says Yale University professor and HRI 2009 co-chair Brian Scassellati. He says the field of human-robot interaction is growing rapidly, and is revealing a great deal on human social psychology. "It's only really in the last 10 years or so that we've had the computational and perceptual capability on these machines to really make a difference," Scassellati says.
Peer-to-Peer Heart Monitoring
EurekAlert (03/09/09) Le, Hanh
Researchers in South Africa and Australia believe a peer-to-peer (P2P) network would make it easier for a health center computer server to handle incoming data from monitoring devices. The telemonitoring of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems, would enable medical centers to monitor such conditions remotely, but there are concerns that the data would overload a centralized computer server. The team has developed an application to demonstrate proof of principle of how a P2P network could incorporate electrocardiograms. P2P could be used to quickly develop a low-cost e-health system for heart monitoring, according to tests. Computer scientists Hanh Le, Nina Schiff, and Johan du Plessis at the University of Cape Town participated on the P2P heart-monitoring network project with Doan Hoang at the University of Technology in Sydney. The research into the decentralized, data-sharing strategy will appear in the next issue of the International Journal of Computer Applications in Technology.
'I'm Here to Make You Feel Better'
Washington Post (03/10/09) P. F1; Slomski, Anita
Researchers are developing socially assistive robots that can provide therapy and support to people with cognitive and physical handicaps. One example is CosmoBot, a robot developed by AnthroTronix that provides language and reading stimulation to children with cognitive disabilities through repetition and predictable behavior. Human-robot interaction depends on the machine's ability to express a personality, ascertain the user's emotions and intentions, exhibit empathy and similar feelings, or follow social conventions. "We can write algorithms to allow the robot to sense what a person is doing so it can respond immediately, appropriately and safely," says Maja J. Mataric with the University of Southern California's Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems. A person is more likely to take a robot's direction if the robot can perceive and respond to human signals, while close correspondence between the robot's personality and that of the user or patient also is advantageous. Determining the look of socially assistive robots is another challenge, as preferences can vary among people of different ages and/or with different disorders. Autistic children, for instance, prefer distinctly machine-like robots. Despite the readiness of socially assistive robot technology, researchers say they need to learn from clinicians what robotic features are appropriate for treating a disorder, while funding is required for research to demonstrate that such machines are ready to migrate from the laboratory to the real world.
Indian Schools to Benefit From New Computer Chips
Rice University (03/10/09) Boyd, Jade
Schools in rural India will be the first to benefit from an educational initiative between computer scientists at Rice University and educators in India that will use a new, low-energy chip developed at Rice. The chip will be used to create solar-powered I-slates, electronic versions of the individual blackboard slates used by many Indian school children. The I-slate's developers are working with educational technologists from the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Hyderabad, India, to develop a visually based mathematics curriculum. The new chip, developed by Rice's Krishna Palem, trades precision in calculations for significantly reduced energy use. The key to the chip's use is finding applications in which a certain amount of error can be tolerated, such as streaming video for cell phones or low-powered video displays in I-slates. The chip uses probabilistic complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (PCMOS) technology, which uses 30 times less energy while running seven times faster than existing technology. Palem's PCMOS chip, developed with the help of researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, uses probabilistic logic, a new form of chip logic developed by Palem and doctoral student Lakshmi Chakrapani.
Noise Could Mask Web Searchers' IDs
New Scientist (03/07/09) Marks, Paul
Microsoft researchers say that adding noise to search engine records could protect Web users' identities, and that implementing such a technique would be a major step toward provable privacy. Records of Web searches are extremely useful to software engineers looking to improve search technology, and can provide valuable insight for scientists exploring digital search behaviors. However, attempts to make search data anonymous have been mostly unsuccessful. Microsoft researchers Krishnaram Kenthapadi, Nina Mishra, Alex Ntoulas, and Aleksandra Korolova say they have developed a safe way to release search data. The researchers propose publishing data associated only with the most popular queries, so that specific, rarely performed searches, such as for individual names or unique interests, cannot be used to identify people. The researchers also inserted noise into the data by adding digits to the data's figures. Korolova says that adding the noise gives the data provable privacy, and the amount of noise added defines the level of privacy that can be guaranteed. She says the added noise strikes a balance between guaranteeing privacy and providing useful data sets.
IMEC Reports Ultra-Thin Chip Embedding for Wearable Electronics
IMEC (03/10/09) Marent, Katrien
Flexible wireless monitoring systems could become more wearable by using a new three-dimensional integration process developed by IMEC. The technology uses ultra-thin chip package (UTCP) interposers to test packaged thin dies before embedding. The chip is scaled down to 25 micron, embedded in a flexible UTCP, and is then embedded in a standard double-layer flex printed circuit board (PCB) using standard flex PCB production techniques. Other components can be mounted above and below the embedded chip for a high-density integration, and complete systems can be integrated in a conventional low-cost flex substrate using the technology. IMEC demonstrated the process at the recent Smart Systems Integration Conference in Brussels. IMEC used the technology to develop a prototype flexible wireless monitor that measures heart rate and muscle activity. IMEC embedded an ultra-thin chip for the microcontroller and an analog-to-digital converter for the system, which also included an ultra-low power biopotential amplifier chip and a radio transceiver. Scaling down the chips for UTCP embedding made them mechanically flexible and helped make the wireless monitoring system unobtrusive and comfortable to wear.
NIST Suggests Areas for Further Security Metrics Research
Government Computer News (03/09/09) Jackson, William
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST's) Computer Security Division have identified several areas that need to be researched to spur the creation of useful security metrics. One key area is the creation of formal models of security measurement and metrics. NIST scientists say the absence of these models and other formalisms has made it difficult to create security metrics that are useful in practice. Another area that needs to be researched is historical data collection and analysis. The scientists say that predictive estimates of the security of software components and applications that are being examined should be able to be derived from historical data collected about the characteristics of similar types of software and the vulnerabilities those applications experienced. The scientists observe that insights into security metrics could be gained by using analytical techniques on historical data in order to identify trends and correlations, discover unexpected relationships, and uncover other predictive interactions. Finally, the scientists say the development of computing components that are designed for measurement would be a significant step toward developing effective security metrics.
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