Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the May 17, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Cars' Computer Systems Called at Risk to Hackers
New York Times (05/13/10) Markoff, John

Tomorrow's Internet-connected cars could be vulnerable to hackers in the way computers are today, warn researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). During a recent test, the researchers were able to remotely control a car's braking and other functions. "We demonstrate the ability to adversarially control a wide range of automotive functions and completely ignore driver input--including disabling the brakes, selectively braking individual wheels on demand, stopping the engine, and so on," the researchers write. The researchers were also able to insert malicious software into the car and then erase any evidence of tampering. "Taken together, ubiquitous computer control, distributed internal connectivity, and telematics interfaces increasingly combine to provide an application software platform for external network access," write the researchers.

Software Improves Rehabilitation Techniques
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (05/17/10)

Clear and simple visualizations of biomechanical data could improve rehabilitation after a stroke, accelerate the recovery from joint replacements, and prevent older people from falling, according to United Kingdom researchers. University of Strathclyde professor Philip Rowe is leading an initiative to develop bespoke software for capturing biomechanical data and presenting it in a way that would assist health care professionals in their effort to communicate movement information to patients. Currently, movement information is only available in graphical, tabular, or numerical form. The software would work with Strathclyde's specialist motion analysis system and portable motion sensors. "By using animation, we can enable patients to visualize a movement, and how it affects their body," Rowe says.

LSU Scientists Develop New Efficiency Software
The Advocate (05/16/10) Griggs, Ted

Louisiana State University (LSU) professors Supratik Mukhopadhyay and S.S. Iyengar have developed software that can monitor systems and use the data it collects to make decisions on what to do next. The software can sift through massive amounts of data to detect a complex event or pattern. Iyengar says a complex event might involve multiple events that take place over time, with the software comparing the current circumstances to events in the past. Each time the network takes an action, it reevaluates the situation to make the next decision. Iyengar says the software learns quickly, which makes the system as efficient as possible. The researchers' goal is to embed the software in a computer chip so that customers can take the chip and develop their own interface. They say the system could be adapted for use in many applications, such as military procedures, golf course sprinkler systems, and the electrical power grid.

Re-learning How to Help Professionals Share Their Practice
ICT Results (05/13/10)

The European Union-funded Palette project has developed online tools that have led to new approaches to the science of education. "There are many online collaboration tools, but most of them are oriented towards enterprises, not communities," says Palette coordinator Christine Vanoirbeek. She says the semantic Web plays a key role in the project, as it is more about intelligent Web-searching, which is based on interlinked concepts. One of the objectives of Palette was to get communities of practice to develop their own ontologies. Many of the Palette tools also exploit the advantages of Web 2.0 social networking technologies or the document-searching capabilities of the semantic Web, such as ways to east document sharing across the Internet by eliminating the need to exchange emails or open a series of applications during a collaboration. "The big challenge in the Palette project was to make these tools interoperable, so that the tools could be combined and information reused," Vanoirbeek says.

Can Social Networks Be Generated Automatically?
Technology Review (05/14/10) Naone, Erica

Companies are increasingly interested in using social networking data to automatically determine users' behavior patterns, but researchers say more work is needed to define what it takes for two people to be connected. "You don't get to directly observe relationships, you get to observe communication events," says Yahoo!'s Jake Hofman. Algorithms can infer different social network patterns based on the interpretation of communications events, making these certain networks more suitable for different circumstances. For example, a network based on relatively infrequent communications might work well for sharing tagged news items, while more frequent communications might work better for networks designed for sharing more intimate information. Incomplete information can throw off attempts to characterize social networks automatically, says Georgia Tech professor Eric Gilbert. Studying the structure of a network in greater detail can compensate for the problem of incomplete information, Gilbert says. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Munmun De Choudhury says more research is needed to make algorithms able to better understand the nature of social connections.

Virtual Humans Appear to Influence Ethical Decisions in Gender-Specific Ways
Indiana University (05/14/10) Aisen, Cindy Fox

An Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) study examined how appearance, motion quality, and other characteristics of computer-generated characters impact the moral and ethical decisions of their viewers. The research found that the decisions of men were strongly affected by presentational aspects of the simulated woman, while women's decisions were not. In the study, a simulated female character, whose photorealism and motion quality were varied in four ways, presented participants with an ethical problem related to sexual conduct and marital infidelity. The changes had no significant effect on female viewers, while male viewers were much more likely to rule against the character when her visual appearance was obviously computer generated. "Although it is difficult to generalize, I think the general trend is that both men and women are more sympathetic to real human characters than to simulated human characters," says IUPUI professor Karl F. MacDorman. The findings could impact the design of future systems created to facilitate medical decision-making and crime reenactments.

New Platform Creates Shortcut for Field Data Analysis
Government Computer News (05/14/10) Jackson, William

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have developed the Knowledge Acquisition Ubiquitous Agent Infrastructure (KAUAI), a framework for gathering and analyzing data from mobile devices in the field without the need for central repositories or back-end systems, which could enable users to quickly send information directly to colleagues in control centers or bases. The researchers say KAUAI takes advantage of the increased power and functionality of the latest mobile devices, which enables them to perform computational tasks. KAUAI is a Java-based mobile agent framework that makes each mobile device a part of a distributed database that can be queried centrally or by other mobile devices. The infrastructure runs on both the standard J2SE Java Virtual Machine and a mobile JVM for Windows Mobile called CrE-ME. "Distributed solutions outperform the centralized solution in terms of speed for each query, and the speed of the distributed search depends on the amount of query-related data in the system," the researchers write.

Untangling Facebook, Decoding Congress: New Mathematical Method May Help Tame Big Data
UNC News (05/13/10) Lane, Patric

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) researchers have developed a technique for examining networks to help identify patterns and see how connections evolve. They say the approach offers the ability to examine networks that vary over time and have multiple kinds of connections. "This method offers new potential for handling a fire hose of information, whether you're looking at an online social network or a real-world web of people or things," says UNC professor Peter J. Mucha. The researchers derived the new method from mathematical principles and applied it to a few example datasets, including the complete historical roll call voting record in the U.S. Senate through 2008, and a set of Facebook profiles from nearly 1,700 students at an anonymous U.S. university. The method divides a network into multiple "slices," with each slice representing the network at one snapshot in time, or a different set of connections between the individuals within it. These slices are then combined and analyzed to identify communities.

Nanotube Transistor Will Help Us Bond With Machines
New Scientist (05/12/10) Barras, Colin

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers have developed a transistor, which they say could be a step toward making prosthetic devices that can be wired directly into a person's nervous system. The transistor consists of a carbon nanotube that behaves like a semiconductor, bridging the gap between two metal electrodes and coated with an insulating polymer layer that leaves the middle section of the nanotube exposed. The entire device is then coated again, this time with a lipid bi-layer similar to those that form the membranes surrounding a human's cells. The researchers then applied a voltage across the transistor's electrodes and poured a solution containing adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This caused a current to flow through the electrodes, with a higher concentration of ATP resulting in a stronger current. LLNL researcher Aleksandr Noy says this is the first example of an integrated bioelectronic system. "I hope that this type of technology could be used to construct seamless bioelectronic interfaces to allow better communication between living organisms and machines," Noy says.
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Physicists Use Location to Guarantee Security of Quantum Messages
Technology Review (05/13/10)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have developed a type of quantum cryptography, which guarantees that only a person at a certain location can read an encrypted message. The researchers say their method makes no assumption other than that laws of quantum physics are correct. It is not technically complex, because it only calls for a qubit to be sent along a quantum channel, while all other communication can be completed classically. A quantum measurement is required, but not quantum computation. The researchers say that there is no technological reason why this scheme cannot be implemented today. Although the approach is relatively simple, the proof of its security is complex and involved. "Unfortunately we do not have a security proof, and we leave it as an open problem to find an attack or prove its security," says UCLA's Nishanth Chandran.

Researchers Examine Real-Time Search Behavior
Penn State Live (05/12/10) Spinelle, Jenna

Penn State University (PSU) professor Jim Jansen recently conducted a study to identify the characteristics of users who are looking for real-time content. Jansen found that many users of real-time search engines are doing so from secondary applications rather than from the platform's Web site, that queries tend to repeat over multiple days, and that the searches tend to focus on technology, entertainment, and politics. "The access of real-time search results from secondary application has important implications for how these results are used and how the results can be leveraged for marketing purposes," Jansen says. He notes that "as people become more accustomed to using real-time content, real-time search will become still more important."

Junior, the Robotic Car, Learns to Slide Park (05/11/10) Edwards, Lin

The autonomous car that the Stanford Racing Team developed for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Urban Challenge in 2007 is now capable of parking itself. In video presented at the recent 2010 International Conference on Robotics and Automation, "Junior" goes into reverse, accelerates up to 25 miles per hour, suddenly brakes while turning the wheel sharply, spinning 180 degrees and sliding into a parking space. Junior can reliably and repeatedly perform the parking maneuver. After taking second place at the 2007 event, the Stanford Racing Team has focused on moving beyond straight line driving to handling more complex maneuvers. The parking maneuver combines the closed-loop system of control, which uses data from sensors built into the car, with open-loop control for the spin and slide into position. The car's software decides when to switch between the two modes of operation, based on observation.

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