Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 6, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Online Collaboration With Built-In Clarity
ICT Results (11/06/09)

The European ECOSPACE project has developed a standardized architecture for online group collaboration. The project's researchers analyzed collaboration applications from various companies to identify the most common and essential aspects of the programs. The researchers then used their findings to develop a standardized architecture with software building blocks, or basic collaboration services, which would allow the collaboration applications to interoperate. The architecture uses a semantic ontology to define and correlate the concepts and terms used by the applications. Prototypes of the system allow users of common collaboration tools to all work on the same documents and projects. The ECOSPACE project also developed several tools to eliminate other barriers to online collaboration, including understanding who is available for collaboration, what their job is, and how they are progressing. One development is an expectation awareness tool that automatically tracks users' expectations, and can help keep users aware of upcoming deadlines or notify them when a deadline has been missed. The tool makes goals and expectations explicit. Meanwhile, ECOSPACE's collaboration mining tool oversees a project's progression by keeping track of who is making changes or is involved in an online project, information that is normally not visible.

Secretary Clinton Announces New Initiatives to Bolster Science and Technology Collaboration With Muslim Communities Around the World
National Science Foundation (11/04/09) Zacharias, Maria C.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently announced new initiatives aimed at promoting science and technology collaboration with Muslim communities around the world. Clinton named Bruce Alberts, Elias Zerhouni, and Ahmed Zewail as the first three U.S. Science and Technology Envoys. Clinton also announced that the State Department will expand positions for environment, science, technology, and health officers at U.S. embassies. "We want to help Muslim majority communities develop the capacity to meet economic, social, and ecological challenges through science, technology, and innovation," Clinton says. The U.S. Science Envoy program is part of President Obama's New Beginning initiative with Muslim communities. At a speech in Cairo, Egypt, Obama pledged that the United States would "appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops." Over the next few months, the science envoys will visit countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia to form partnerships in all areas of science and technology. The envoys will be supported by new embassy officers who will engage international partners on a range of environmental, scientific, and health issues.

US and Australia Dominate MAGIC Robot Competition Short List
Computerworld Australia (11/06/09) Clarke, Trevor

The organizers of the Multi-Autonomous Ground-robotic International Challenge (MAGIC) have created a list of 12 teams to develop their proposals. Ten teams will receive $50,000, and the remaining two teams have the opportunity to self-fund their projects. The U.S. Department of Defense and Australia's Defense Science & Technology Organization are sponsoring MAGIC to encourage innovation in robotics, including next-generation military robots. "The quality of the submissions was very strong and exceeded our expectations," says Greg Combet, Australia's Minister for Defense Personnel, Material, and Science. The competition received 23 entries, and the final list included five teams from the United States, four from Australia, and one each from Canada, Japan, and Turkey. The list will be reduced in June 2010 to five teams, which will receive another $50,000 to complete their projects for a Grand Challenge Event that will take place in Australia in November 2010. Most of the teams are partnerships between universities and companies.

Dartmouth Professor Finds That Iconic Oswald Photo Was Not Faked
Dartmouth News (11/05/09) Knapp, Susan

Dartmouth College computer scientist Hany Farid says the iconic photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald holding a rifle and Marxist newspapers is not a fake and was almost certainly not altered. Oswald and others claimed the photograph was a forgery due to seemingly inconsistent lighting and shadows. Farid and his team have developed digital forensic tools to determine if digital photos have been manipulated. The tools can measure statistical inconsistencies in the underlying image pixels, improbable lighting and shadow, physically impossible perspective distortion, and other changes made by photo manipulation. "The human brain, while remarkable in many aspects, also has its weaknesses," Farid says. "The visual system can be quite inept at making judgments regarding 3D geometry, lighting, and shadows." The lighting and shadows in the Oswald photo appear to be incongruous with outdoor lighting. To test this possibility, Farid created a three-dimensional model of Oswald's head and portions of the backyard scene, which he used to determine that a single light source--the sun--could explain all of the shadows in the photo. "It is highly improbable that anyone could have created such a perfect forgery with the technology available in 1963," Farid says. "As our digital forensic tools become more sophisticated, we increasingly have the ability to apply them to historic photos in an attempt to resolve some long-standing mysteries."

Applause for the SmartHand
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (11/04/09)

Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers and European scientists have succeeded in wiring an artificial hand to the existing nerve endings in the stump of a person with a severed arm. The bionic hand, called the SmartHand, resembles a real hand in function, sensitivity, and appearance. It features four electric motors and 40 sensors to replicate the movement of a human hand and provide a sensation of feeling and touch. The project's first human subject has been able to perform complicated tasks such as eating and writing, and says he has been able to "feel" his fingers once again. TAU researchers developed the interface between the body's nerves and the device's electronics. "Perfectly good nerve endings remain at the stem of a severed limb," says TAU professor Yosi Shacham-Diamand. "Our team is building the interface between the device and the nerves in the arm, connecting cognitive neuroscience with state-of-the-art information technologies." He says the challenge was to make an electrode that was not only flexible but that could be implanted in the human body and function properly for at least 20 years. After only a few training sessions, the human subject is operating the artificial hand as if it was his own, Shacham-Diamand says. The researchers say the same technology could be used to build a bionic leg. They say the SmartHand prototype currently looks very "bionic," but future versions could have artificial skin that will look human and provide the brain with even more tactile feedback.

ACM Announces Initiative for Long-Term Preservation of Content in Its Digital Library
ACM (11/05/09)

ACM announced that it is providing institutional library customers with advanced electronic archiving services to help preserve their electronic resources. The services, which will be provided by Portico and CLOCKSS, address the scholarly community's need for long-term solutions for reliable, secure, and deliverable access to their growing collections of digital content. ACM is providing these services to protect the online collection of resources in its Digital Library, which is used by more than 1 million computing professionals and students around the world. "By partnering with Portico and CLOCKSS, we are able to meet a growing demand in the library community for a trusted, reliable third-party archive, and to ensure that digital collections remain accessible to future scholars, researchers, and students," says ACM Group Publisher Scott Delman. "Scientific discovery and the educational process are not possible without reliable access to the accumulated scholarship of the past and secure preservation of the scholarly record, and these agreements are a clear step forward with the relationship between the ACM and the library community." ACM hopes that the long-term digital preservation of content will make it easier for libraries to free up resources invested in print collections in favor of innovative electronic products and services. Portico preserves material through migration, which involves transitioning content from one file format to another as technology advances and file formats become obsolete. CLOCKSS uses Archive Nodes, which are stored at libraries chosen to be the custodians of the archived materials, and are located throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

MU Research Leads to Improved Human, Object Detection Technology
MU News Bureau (MO) (11/02/09) Jackson, Kelsey

University of Missouri researchers are developing software that would enable computers to search within videos and identify humans and specific objects, as well as perform other video analysis tasks. "The goal of our research is to improve how computers interpret the content of a video and how to identify it," says Missouri professor Tony Han. "There are lots of possibilities with video-based detection, and it could come at quite a low cost compared to object and human detection using other sensors, such as thermal sensors." Intelligent video surveillance would enable automated systems to quickly call for help if it detects that a human is falling, or make a car stop immediately if it detects a pedestrian in its way, for example. Han and his students are developing algorithms for automatic object detection, and have manually labeled more than 3,000 images with object locations to test their algorithms. This fall, Han and his students participated in the PASCAL grand challenge in object detection, a contest in which researchers compete to detect objects in 20 categories. Han and his team came in first place for detecting potted plants and chairs and second place for detecting humans, cars, horses, and bikes.

A New System Preserves the Right to Privacy in Internet Searches
Plataforma SINC (11/05/09)

Researchers from Rovira i Virgili University, Autonoma of Barcelona, and Oberta of Catalonia have developed a system that protects the privacy of Internet search engine users through a new computer protocol. "It is a model based on cryptographic tools, which distort the profile of users when they use search engines on Internet in such a way that their privacy is preserved," says Rovira i Virgili University's Alexandre Viego. The researchers note that there are systems that provide anonymous navigation, but say their system provides a significant improvement in response time over anonymous systems, though it still delays searches slightly. The new protocol has already been tested in both closed research center intranets and on the Internet, and the results have made the researchers optimistic about a global implementation model. The researchers are currently working on the development of a final user version, and believe that it will soon be easy to integrate the system into the major platforms and browsers.

Innovation Spending Looks Recession-Resistant
New York Times (10/30/09) Lohr, Steve

Corporate research and development (R&D) spending and patent activity have held up surprisingly well during the recession, according to a new Booz & Company survey of the 1,000 largest R&D spenders. The survey found that R&D budgets rose 5.7 percent during the recession in 2008, compared with a 10 percent increase in 2007. "The thing that surprised us was that R&D spending didn't actually drop," says Booz partner Barry Jaruzelski. "But innovation is a fundamental strategy for these companies to hold onto their markets and gain an edge on their competitors." The survey indicates that 70 percent plan to maintain or increase their R&D spending in 2009. Spending varied by industry, with 90 percent of the top-spending auto companies cutting back, while 80 percent of the top-spending software and Internet companies increased their spending. Booz also found that innovation activity tends to be resilient in economic downturns, noting that patent applications increased 25 percent during the Depression years of 1929 through 1932. Patent applications rose to 505,596 in 2008, and about 520,000 are expected to be filed this year. Many of the applications involve alternative energy, energy conservation, nanotechnology, and smartphone hardware and software.

Tim Berners-Lee: Machine-Readable Web Still a Ways Off
Government Computer News (10/30/09) Jackson, Joab

World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee says the machine-readable Web is still a ways off and faces numerous obstacles. He says recent initiatives such as the U.S. government's, specifically its spreadsheets and application programming interfaces, do not do enough to improve the reusability of data. There also are not enough commercial products available to easily transition Web sites to the Semantic Web. Berners-Lee says data published online should be put in the Resource Description Framework (RDF). However, he says few Web site managers are trained in RDF, and few Web development applications use the standard, so semantic Web enthusiasts need to reach out to the rest of the world to encourage its adoption. The use of RDF should not require building new systems, or changing how site administrators operate, according to Berners-Lee. Instead, scripts can be written in Python, Perl, or other languages to convert data in spreadsheets or relational databases into RDF for end users. Berners-Lee says the Semantic Web's complexity is partially responsible for its slow uptake, and he notes that supporting RDF "is still remarkably difficult as a paradigm shift."

Futurists' Report Acknowledges Dangers of Smart Robots
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA) (11/02/09) Cronin, Mike

A forthcoming report from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) will explore whether robots could eventually become so intelligent that they pose a threat to society. Although some researchers are concerned about the legal and ethical use of artificial intelligence, most computer scientists do not believe the radical view that robots could come to dominate the future, says Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz, who united the group to write the report. However, some researchers believe intelligent machines could threaten humanity, while others are concerned about what people may do with computers based on artificial intelligence. Horvitz says there is still plenty of time to address these concerns as the technology advances. The report marks the first time that AAAI scientists have come together to discuss artificial intelligence's potential positive and negative impacts on society, Horvitz says. Carnegie Mellon University professor Tom Mitchell says the real danger is the prospect of computer viruses becoming intelligent. Mitchell says an intelligent virus with speech-recognition abilities could be hidden in someone's electronic device and eavesdrop on conversations. Toyota Technical Institute at Chicago professor David McAllester believes it is inevitable that fully automated intelligent machines will be able to design and build smarter, better versions of themselves, an event known as the Singularity. The Singularity would enable machines to become infinitely intelligent, and would pose an "incredibly dangerous scenario," he says. The report also focuses on ethical and legal issues that are likely to arise as robots become more ingrained in society.

$1.2M Project Speeds Research Data Processing
University of Western Ontario (10/29/09) Mayne, Paul

Canada's Advanced Research and Innovation Network has provided $1.2 million to researchers at the University of Western Ontario to develop a new high-speed network for handling huge amounts of research data from synchrotrons in Canada and the United States. When completed, Active Network for Information for Synchrotron Experiments (ANISE) will be capable of processing and providing feedback on data moving at rates of up to 10 terabytes per day. Synchrotrons have largely been used to gather and store data until now, says Mike Bauer, director of Western's Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network (SHARCNET). ANISE will allow for near real-time processing and enable users of synchrotrons to respond to experimental data within minutes. The project promises to improve the efficiency of labs, as their industrial and academic partners around the world would no longer have to wait days to analyze data. Researchers from SHARCNET will work with Canadian Light Source, IBM Canada, and IBM Research on the project.

UM Students to Experiment With Future Ford Sync System Applications
Crain's Detroit Business (10/29/09) Walsh, Dustin

Ford Motor is giving University of Michigan (UM) electrical engineering and computer science students an opportunity to create software for future generations of its Sync system. Ford has partnered with the university's College of Engineering to launch "American Journey 2.0," a research project in which students will develop, beta test, and program open source applications for their in-car connectivity concept. The Sync system makes use of technologies such as data-over-voice, global positioning systems, and a text-to-speech engine, and Ford now wants to take advantage of social networking capabilities and other Web 2.0 functions. The students are likely to develop applications that will track driving habits and offer gas mileage tips, as well as social networking applications. "Research like this pushes the envelope of current technology and helps us identify and solve the next set of challenges in the evolving arena of vehicle connectivity," says UM professor Jason Flinn. "What excites me about this project is that it gives our students the opportunity to unleash their creativity using cutting-edge technologies that connect the vehicle and the 'cloud.' " The winning application will be installed in a Ford Fiesta, and the team will take it to the 2010 Maker Faire convention.

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