Welcome to the September 16, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Can You Trust Crowd Wisdom?
MIT Technology Review (09/16/09) Grifantini, Kristina
A researcher who studied the voting patterns on Amazon.com, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), and the book review site BookCrossings says a small group of users can easily affect online recommendations. In examining hundreds of thousands of items and millions of votes across the three sites, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) professor Vassilis Kostakos discovered that a small number of people were responsible for most of the ratings. His team found that only five percent of active Amazon users voted on more than 10 products, and a handful made recommendations for hundreds of items. Kostakos believes such voting patterns may not reveal views that represent the overall community, and notes that the results help explain why reviews are often overly negative or overly positive. He believes Web sites could get more users to participate by making it easier to offer reviews. CMU professor Niki Kittur, who was not involved in the project, believes Web sites should summarize a user's review and other contributions so others could see any obvious biases. A team of IBM Almaden Research Center computer scientists mine the wisdom of online crowds to identify what's hot on music charts in the September CACM (http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2009/9).
Electronics 'Missing Link' United With Rest of the Family
New Scientist (09/14/09) Barras, Colin
Memristors were identified by Hewlett-Packard (HP) as the missing link of electronics 18 months ago, and since then the same team of HP researchers has upgraded a standard silicon chip with a layer of memristors to demonstrate that the component can integrate well with existing computing hardware. Like resistors, memristors develop a resistance to electrical current that is proportional to the current passing by at any moment, while also being capable of recalling the last current they experienced. "Each memristor can take the place of seven to 12 transistors," says HP researcher Stan Williams. Furthermore, the memristor can retain its memory in the absence of power. A memristor's memory of its last current can be read by observing how it creates a new memory in response to a new current, and these memories are fashioned from a double layer of semiconducting titanium dioxide. "The new hybrid system lifts the data-routing network and the switches out of the [complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS)] plane," Williams says. "This will greatly free up the space on the CMOS layer for more devices, effectively increasing the density of circuits" without the need for further transistor miniaturization. Williams speculates that similarities between memristive circuits and the behavior of some simple life forms imply that the hybrid devices also could help lead to neuromorphic computing in which computers learn for themselves.
Google Releases News-Reading Service
New York Times (09/14/09) Helft, Miguel
Google Fast Flip is a new service designed to make it easier for users to read newspaper and magazine articles by facilitating the viewing of articles from dozens of major publishers. Readers can flip through the articles as rapidly as they would the pages of a magazine. "Browsing news on the Web is much slower than it is in print," notes Google researcher Krishna Bharat. "When it is fast, people will look at more news and more ads, and that's something that publishers want to see." Fast Flip first manifests itself as a cluster of images of articles Google has compiled from the sites of its partners, displayed side by side and ranked by popularity. The article images are stripped down for fast loading, and readers can zoom into a particular section, publication, or article, as well as go directly to the publisher's Web site by clicking on the article. Bharat says Fast Flip will use many Web features, and rank articles based on a combination of Google algorithms and user behavior. Google plans to place display ads alongside the stories and split the resulting revenue with publishers.
UWE Launches New Center of Engineering in Croatia
University of the West of England, Bristol (09/15/09) Kelly, Jane; Price, Mary
The University of the West of England (UWE) and the European Union have jointly launched the Center of Mechatronics, Karlovac (CMK) in Croatia. Led by Farid Dailami and colleagues from the UWE's Bristol Institute for Technology, the center will work with the existing Polytechnic and Technical Schools of Karlovac. CMK will provide new courses and give students the opportunity to work with local companies. The Technical School already obtains local apprenticeships for its students, but the CMK will use the Polytechnic's resources to give strategic advice, consultancy, and professional training to companies whose industries include electronic and mechanical engineering as well as robotics. "The center has already generated significant interest in Karlovac and has benefited from funding contributions and commercial contracts of around 15,000 euros from industry and other local and national organizations," Dailami says. "This 'pump priming' has enabled the center's management to focus on the future and formulate a growth strategy to fit the educational, industrial, and commercial needs of Karlovac and its region." The UWE also is setting up an exchange with the Polytechnic so that its teaching staff can obtain Ph.D.s from UWE.
On the Road to Secure Car-to-Car Communications
ICT Results (09/14/09)
The European SEVECOM project is developing ways to keep car-to-car communications private and secure from hackers. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications should make driving safer, but there are concerns over whether those communication links are safe from outside influences. Hackers could cause catastrophic damage by sending false messages to vehicles, or they could track individual cars to follow a specific person, such as a public official or celebrity. The SEVECOM project is working with industry participants to create a security architecture that everyone could apply to proprietary car-to-car applications. "There's plenty of secure encryption methodologies, but what doesn't exist is the architecture," says SEVECOM project coordinator Antonio Kung. "SEVECOM brought together stakeholders to agree what building blocks to use, where they should go, and when they should be used." One important proposal of the project is that car communication should not use a fixed ID tag in its transmission, which would allow individual cars to be tracked. Instead, vehicles should use pseudonyms that change several times, such as every time the ignition is turned on or at regular intervals during a trip. The research is complicated because an international standard protocol for car-to-car communications has still not been established. "We had to design a flexible architecture so that it could easily be adapted to conform to a standard once it has been agreed," Kung says. "The security module had to be independent of all the other communication technology and protocols involved in transmitting data."
Internet Map Questions
Associated Press (09/14/09) Svensson, Peter; Tessler, Joelle
The U.S. stimulus package allocated up to $350 million to map out broadband Internet access in the United States for the purpose of guiding broadband expansion policies, although critics have characterized that sum as excessive. The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration recently indicated that it would initially spend more than $100 million and then reevaluate the program to ensure that the map funding is used "in a fiscally prudent manner." Although the ultimate cost of the map should be less than the congressionally-set $350 million cap, the total still appears as if it will run far higher than estimates based on the costs of smaller mapping initiatives in individual U.S. states. For example, North Carolina's broadband authority e-NC spends no more than $275,000 annually to maintain a map of statewide broadband availability, says e-NC executive director Jane Smith Patterson. DSL Prime editor Dave Burstein believes a country-wide broadband map could be furnished for less than $30 million. However, it is unlikely that the map would be completed before the publication of a national broadband plan being developed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in February. Proponents of expanding broadband argue that such expansion is vital to the U.S.'s economic growth, while also contending that some high-speed Internet may never be made available to certain rural areas because service providers see no incentive in extending their lines there. The identification of those areas will be a major push of the mapping effort.
Artificial Intelligence Helps Diagnose Cardiac Infections
Mayo Clinic (09/12/09) Nellis, Robert
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have trained an artificial neural network (ANN) to evaluate the symptoms for infections involving the valves and chambers of the heart, and they believe the software has the potential to replace diagnosis with more invasive exams. The team trained the ANN on three separate occasions by introducing as many situations related to endocarditis infections as possible. Then the researchers tested the software on 189 cases involving device-related endocarditis between 1991 and 2003. On cases with known diagnosis of endocarditis, the best-trained ANN was correct in 72 of 73 implant-related infections and 12 of 13 endocarditis cases, with a confidence level greater than 99 percent. And for an overall sample of both known and unknown cases, the software accurately excluded endocarditis in at least half of the cases, eliminating such patients from an unnecessary endoscope and insertion of a probe down the esophagus. "If, through this novel method, we can help determine a percentage of endocarditis diagnoses with a high rate of accuracy, we hope to save a significant number of patients from the discomfort, risk, and expense of the standard diagnostic procedure," says study leader M. Rizwan Sohail.
Graphitic Memory Techniques Advance at Rice
Rice University (09/09/09) Williams, Mike
Rice University researcher James Tour and postdoctoral associate Alexander Sinitskii used industry-standard lithographic techniques to place 10-nanometer strips of amorphous graphite onto silicon, which could lead to the creation of very dense and stable nonvolatile memory. Many other efforts to create graphitic memory used techniques that were not practical in terms of fabrication, but Tour and Sinitskii used chemical vapor deposition and lithography, both of which are well known in the chip manufacturing industry. Tour's lab discovered that running a current through a 10-atom thick layer of graphite creates a complete break in the circuit, while another jolt of electricity repairs that break. This process appears to be indefinitely repeatable, which could allow graphite to act as ones and zeroes, like in modern flash technology but at a much denser scale. Graphite also can be used with as little as three volts, and it needs only two terminals instead of three, significantly reducing the amount of circuitry needed. Graphite also is impervious to a wide temperature range and radiation, making it highly usable for space and military applications. Current field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) can only be programmed once, but creating a graphite FPGA would allow FPGAs to be reprogrammed at will.
Accurate Predictions in a Limited Calculation Time
Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (09/09/09)
Computers need to automatically focus on key changes in an area in order to accurately predict air, road traffic, and water flow with computer simulations, according to Arthur van Dam, a researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Computers can calculate flows using physics formulas, but calculating, for example, how the air pressure develops over a longer period of time and in large areas would be difficult because the area would be divided into conceptual pieces for calculating the average air pressure and flow rate. Using smaller pieces would increase the accuracy of the calculations, but computers have to calculate longer because more pieces would be needed for the same area. Van Dam has developed a method that automatically reduces the pieces. The subject of his doctoral thesis, the method works for more complex changes, such as rapid changes in air pressure, and would enable a computer to find and assess the complexity of locations in a balanced manner. The automatic focus on interesting areas would allow for more accurate predictions in a limited calculation time.
Machines Can't Replicate Human Image Recognition--Yet
Penn State Live (09/09/09) Spinelle, Jenna
A Pennsylvania State University (PSU) study found that computers, while catching up to humans in many ways, cannot recognize distorted pictures. PSU professor James Z. Wang and colleagues tested the differences between the human and machine ability to interpret images. Their purpose was to find better ways to increase Web security by developing online barriers that automatic programs cannot cross. The researchers developed a program called IMAGINATION that uses a visual Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans apart (CAPTCHA) to protect against malevolent robotic programs. In the PSU study, both humans and robotic programs tested IMAGINATION, but only humans were able to recognize distorted pictures. The robotic programs could only identify images when they were part of an accurate picture. Wang hopes that Web sites will eventually use IMAGINATION to increase online security. However, he notes that computers may overcome this handicap in the future. "We are seeing more intelligently designed computer programs that can harness a large volume of online data, much more than a typical human can experience in a lifetime, for knowledge generation and automatic recognition," Wang says. "If certain obstacles, which many believe to be insurmountable, such as scalability and image representation, can be overcome, it is possible that one day machine recognizability can reach that of humans."
AFOSR Funds Super-Fast, Secure Computing
Air Force Print News (DC) (09/08/09) Callier, Maria
The U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) is supporting University of Michigan (UM) physicists' development of components for quantum computers that will enhance security for data storage and transmission on Air Force systems. UM professor Duncan Steel and his team initially investigated methods to optically produce and maintain quantum coherence using a single electron or hole in a quantum dot structure. A probable key element for long-term success is sustaining a consistent electrical charge for an extended period of time in a solid-state nanostructure. The researchers' next challenge has been exploring how to manipulate the electrical charge to carry out basic computing tasks, and the team has been better able to control and maintain information through the demonstration of well-defined "spin and phase" quantum properties. The researchers have successfully learned how to optically manipulate and measure the spin of an extra electron in a quantum dot in cooperation with Naval Research Laboratory collaborators. Steel's research has yielded new insights into how spin and phase information is lost and how that loss can be reduced, enabling the research team to demonstrate an increase in quantum storage time. When coupled with ultra-fast laser technology, this boost will support more than 1 million quantum operations prior to information loss. "State-of-the-art frequency, stabilized lasers, and the advanced laser control system, developed with AFOSR support, will make optical control possible from this time forth," Steel says.
How Emerging Wireless Techs Are Transforming Healthcare
Network World (09/08/09) Reed, Brad
Heath care technology researchers are taking advantage of faster wireless networks and developing new "telehealth" sensors and devices as part of a booming new industry in health technology. ABI Research predicts that the number of wireless telehealth sensors in use will more than double by 2012, from 7 million today to 15 million in the next three years. Intel and General Electric will spend a combined $250 million on home health technology research for telehealth products over the next five years. Intel says that its partnership will develop devices for assisted living as well as a program that would allow patients to send and receive health updates on their mobile phones like text messages. "We are going to see more use of mobile phones to act as gateway devices," says ABI's Sam Lucero. "Essentially you'll have sensors on the body that will connect to your mobile phone and that will act as a gateway for the service provider." A current example of remote patient monitoring is the Center for Connected Health's SmartBeat program in Boston. SmartBeat monitors patients through a wireless device that connects to the Internet. The center can track a patient's progress by analyzing SmartBeat's data and send them regular alerts. But health technology will be even better once it is compatible with universal wireless technologies such as GSM or WiMAX, says Partners Telemedicine's Doug McClure. "We've gotten 200 leading companies in the field to come together to make sure these devices are as interoperable as possible," he says. Moreover, by "making devices smarter," McClure says developers can make telehealth products easier for patients to use. Eventually, transmissions from telehealth devices could be automatic, eliminating the need for patients to do anything at all. The Vitality GlowCap medicine container cap, for example, contains a wireless sensor that alerts health care workers every time a patient opens it.
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