Welcome to the July 10, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
South Korean Web Sites Are Hobbled in New Round of Attacks
The Washington Post (07/10/09) P. A14; Harden, Blaine
Several government, banking, and media Web sites in South Korea were attacked on July 9 in the third wave of a distributed denial of service attack that has targeted sites in that country and the United States since early July. The most recent attack began early Thursday evening, when the MyDoom virus that hackers had planted in thousands of personal and business computers ordered the machines to begin attacking sites belonging to South Korea's Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry, and parliament, among others. During the attack, the sites slowed down or temporarily stopped working. According to South Korea's National Intelligence Service, the level of the attacks was extremely organized and well planned. The agency said this could mean the attacks were the work of "certain organizations or state." Meanwhile, the attackers seem to have stopped targeting U.S.-based sites. FireEye's Alex Lanstein says the attackers removed U.S. government and commercial Web sites from their list of targeted sites on July 7 after those sites began filtering and blocking attack traffic. Experts say the MyDoom virus, which first surfaced in 2004, has been frequently reprogrammed to target new sites. "This wasn't a computer program thrown out into the wild," says CloudShield's Peder Jungck. "Someone was actively monitoring its success and changing the targets based on the response. There's a human on the other side playing chess with us."
U.S. Tech Education Push Gets a New Techie Weapon
Investor's Business Daily (07/08/09) P. A5; Riley, Sheila
Raytheon recently presented an open source computer simulation and modeling program designed to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to the nonprofit Business-Higher Education Forum. The Raytheon model uses more than 200 variables to assess the effectiveness of policies and programs to encourage students to pursue STEM paths. "Our country is founded on creativity and innovation," says Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson. "In order to have that in the future, we need a robust pipeline of STEM graduates to enjoy what our generation has enjoyed." Brian Fitzgerald, the forum's executive director, says the use of a modeling program is a major departure from standard measurement techniques. Fitzgerald says the program will give the STEM promotion effort more relevant information, so efforts to improve STEM education do not rely on "policy by anecdote." In 2005, 1.3 million high school graduates were academically ready for college, and 277,550 declared STEM majors, but only 166,530 were expected to graduate with STEM degrees. That 40 percent dropout rate is a major concern to U.S. educators and policymakers, Fitzgerald says. The Raytheon modeling program will enable researchers to explore data variables to see how changes could affect STEM graduation rates. The program is the first to use this type of computing, called systems dynamics modeling, on STEM education, says Kathryn Sullivan, director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy at Ohio State University.
Digital Eyes Will Chart Baseball's Unseen Skills
The New York Times (07/10/09) P. A1; Schwarz, Alan
The game of baseball could be significantly affected by a new camera and software system capable of recording the precise speed and location of the ball and every player on the field, which will generate statistics that will grade players with greater accuracy. The data gathered by this method, which is in final testing, will be revealed to a group of baseball executives, statisticians, and academics on July 11. The system's software and artificial intelligence algorithms, which will analyze what will likely be petabytes of raw data, are still under development. "We've gotten so much data for offense, but defensive objective analysis has been the most challenging area to get any meaningful handle on," says Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. The testing and refinement of the camera system has been carried out by Sportvision, which is collaborating with Major League Baseball Advanced Media. In the San Francisco's Giants ballpark, a quartet of high-resolution cameras sit on light towers, capturing everything that happens on the field in three dimensions and transmitting it to a control room. Software tools link movements to balls, runners, and fielders, and more than 2 million meaningful location points are recorded in each game. "[The system] can be another tool to help you improve in areas of the game," says Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells. "People will learn about playing defense, which has gone by the wayside as people have cared so much about offense and hitting the ball out of the ballpark." Major League Baseball Advanced Media's Bob Bowman says he would like the data to be available in some form to statistically minded fans and academics.
Is It Time for the Turing Test to Retire?
V3.co.uk (07/08/09) Ayesh, Aladdin
New research in cognitive sciences and consciousness suggests that experts in artificial intelligence (AI) should reconsider the Turing Test, writes Aladdin Ayesh, a senior lecturer in the Informatics Department at De Montfort University and a member of the Centre for Computational Intelligence. He says it became clear during a recent debate at the conference of the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behavior that the Turing Test does not fully test intelligence. For example, the test does not consider learning, which is an element of intelligence in humans and animals. Alan Turing created the conversation test in 1950 as a way to determine whether a machine was intelligent. In order to pass the test, a machine ultimately has to be conscious of the fact that it is a machine; that it must come across as human; and that it must be conscious of time, visual limitation, and of what makes a human come across as human. As a result, the Turing Test may really test consciousness, self-awareness, and the ability to create from imagination. A symposium at the 2010 Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behavior conference will try to determine whether consciousness, self-awareness, and creativity are the prerequisites of intelligence.
Defense Agency, Faulted for Scaling Back Computer Research, Gets New Leader
The Chronicle of Higher Education (07/08/09) Parry, Marc
University of Washington professor Edward D. Lazowska wants Regina E. Dugan, the new director of the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to re-establish a close relationship with the computing research community. Under DARPA's previous chief, the agency scaled back funding for basic computer science research at universities in favor of projects that are classified or that offer a more immediate payoff. As a result, the relationship between the computing research community and DARPA became strained. Lazowska says that computer researchers are "looking forward to restoring" a relationship whose deterioration is "bad for the field, bad for the nation, and bad for the nation's defense." Cornell University professor Fred B. Schneider says previous DARPA leader Anthony J. Tether deliberately "stopped funding universities, started funding companies, stopped funding long-term work, and started funding short-term work." However, he notes that Dugan has not indicated whether DARPA would return to funding university projects. "That's going to be the next important move, to see whether she's going to get interested in return to funding university work, and return to funding university work in cybersecurity," Schneider says.
Indian Software Gleans Clear Pictures Out of Blurry Images
Indo-Asian News Service (India) (07/09/09)
Two Indian electronic engineers have developed software that uses a neural network to turn hazy or blurry images into clear pictures. The software can build and extend the work of others so that images can be processed quickly, while reducing distortion, noise, and blurring. According to S. Uma from the Coimbatore Institute of Technology and S. Annadurai from the Government College of Technology in Coimbatore, the approach improves image quality 39 percent to 67 percent, and takes half the time of other methods. The modified network helps limit the loss of information while reversing blurring. Uma and Annadurai also say the approach helps reduce noise that can distort the appearance of an image, and suggest that the quality of a photo taken on a hot, hazy day would be acceptable.
Robot Learns to Smile and Frown
UCSD News (07/08/09) Kane, Daniel
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have developed an Einstein robot "empowered" to learn to smile and frown realistically via machine learning. The robot's head features 30 facial muscles, each propelled by a minuscule servo motor. Developmental psychologists theorize that babies use systematic exploratory movements to learn to control their bodies, which initially seem random. "We applied this same idea to the problem of a robot learning to make realistic facial expressions," says Javier Movellan with UCSD's Machine Perception Laboratory. The UCSD researchers commenced the learning process by directing the Einstein robot to twist and turn its face in all directions while it saw its reflection in a mirror and analyzed its own expressions using facial expression detection software. This generated the data needed for machine learning algorithms to learn to map between facial expressions and the movements of the muscle motors. The robot was able to determine the relationship between facial expressions and corresponding muscle movements, and then could produce expressions it had not encountered. Machine Perception Laboratory researchers are studying the Einstein robot's face and head to find ways to automate the process of teaching robots to make realistic facial expressions.
Researchers Help Set Security Standards for the Internet
Dartmouth News (07/07/09) Knapp, Susan
Dartmouth College researchers who pioneered the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) have assumed leadership roles in the establishment of Internet security standards and guidelines. "PKI labors under the misconception that it's difficult," notes Dartmouth PKI architect Scott Rea. "PKI is most successful when it runs under the covers or in the background." The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is funding a program at Dartmouth's Institute for Security, Technology, and Society (ISTS) that seeks to improve the user-friendliness of PKI. The PKI Resource Query Protocol (PRQP) is one of the fruits of this program. ISTS research fellow Massimiliano Pala says PRQP delivers a more distributed system for PKI, and obtains genuine references in order to validate the PKI certificates of servers or individuals. Rea and Pala point to the increasing adoption of PKI and an intentional initiative to persuade more and more organizations to embrace PKI with the creation of consortiums organized around common themes and bridge groups combined into a federation to trust everyone within these networks. ISTS research director Denise Anthony envisions Dartmouth playing a mentoring or parenting role for PKI and PRQP. "Our students, grad students, and post-docs have learned about this emerging technology since it was born," she says. "And we continue to be involved as PKI and PRQP go global and become the standard way to deploy interoperable computing security."
Computers May Be Able to 'Read' Thoughts
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (07/06/09) Stoever, Liz
Washington University in St. Louis researchers have developed technology that gives computers the ability to understand speech imagined in the mind. "The idea is to basically connect people with devices and machines through their thoughts directly," says Washington University Medical School neurologist Eric Leuthardt. The research is based on brain-computer interface (BCI) technology, which monitors brainwaves and uses computers to decode those signals and transform them into action. So far, BCI research efforts have only been able to decode imagined actions. The ability to decode imagined speech will make mentally communicating with computers far easier. Leuthardt says the technology will better connect humans and machines, and will give the disabled unprecedented access to the world. Leuthardt and Washington University biological engineer Daniel Moran have developed video games that can be played with the mind. Players control the game by imagining an action. For example, imagining moving the left hand may mean moving left, while imagining moving the tongue may create upward movement. The system has only been tested on a few people because the sensors used require brain surgery. So far, children with epilepsy have been given the chance to participate because they already have similar equipment surgically implanted to locate electric signals in the brain.
Emotional Robots: Will We Love Them or Hate Them?
New Scientist (07/03/09) Muir, Hazel
Scientists have theorized that many technologies would function better if they were aware of their users' emotional states, and progress in this field includes face- and voice-reading computer programs and wearable equipment that measures emotional engagement by reading perspiration, heart rate, movement, and breathing. Programs that can extrapolate emotions from facial expressions are capable of recognizing disgust, anger, happiness, sadness, fear, and surprise with a great degree of accuracy, but the subject must use an exaggerated expression. Meanwhile, a study published this year by Gwen Littlewort of the University of California, San Diego found that facial expression software can distinguish feigned pain from actual pain with unusual accuracy. Experts are concerned that emotion-sensing machines could have negative consequences. Goldsmiths, University of London designer William Gaver warns that such machines could be used in patronizing ways. He also says that personal relationships could be undermined by emotion sensors, using as an example the isolation that elderly people might feel because of monitors that track them in their home and dissuade them from visiting friends. Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Rosalind Picard points to the dangers of covert use of emotion-sensing technologies, particularly by repressive regimes that want to identify dissidents. She says that anyone using such systems should be required to secure the informed consent from the subjects they intend to read.
The Archival Protection Racket
Researchers in Sofia, Bulgaria, have developed a new way to archive and protect scanned documents. Taking the raw image of a scanned document, text is compressed in a lossless way that allows optical character recognition to be carried out, while images are compressed using an algorithm known as inverse difference pyramid (IDP). Photographs are compressed further using "lossy" IDP. The approach offers an efficient way to search for documents and the IDP algorithm allows an extra embedded and invisible layer that contains a digital watermark to be added to the whole document. Protected by a password, the watermark can only be seen or removed by verified users. The watermark layer does not interfere with the scanned image or the text, but unauthorized editing of the document would damage the invisible watermark.
NDSSL and Collaborators Receive $1.45 Million to Develop Petascale Computer Modeling Capabilities
Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (07/02/09) Whyte, Barry
The Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory (NDSSL) at Virginia Tech's Virginia Bioinformatics Institute has been awarded a four-year, $1.45 million grant by the National Science Foundation to develop petascale computing environments capable of modeling billions of individuals in extremely large social and information networks. The goal of the NDSSL effort is to use new computer technology to study events such as disease pandemics, financial crises, and the spread of opinions, attitudes, or social beliefs. Current state-of-the-art agent-based computer models are capable of simulating these trends through a population the size of the United States, and petascale modeling would make simulations of global populations possible. The NDSSL, working with the Brookings Institution, Indiana University, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will develop models and algorithms that support the work of researchers and policymakers who want to examine and probe individual and group behaviors in simulated global social networks. "Underpinning this project is a desire to create some of the next-generation computational tools and environments that will be needed to enable future research by social, biological, and computational scientists," says NDSSL's Madhav Marathe. "We anticipate unprecedented increases in scaling and execution speeds for computer processors in the years ahead."
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