Welcome to the July 12, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. R&D Companies Employed 27 Million Workers Worldwide in 2008
National Science Foundation (07/08/10) Mixon, Bobbie
U.S. research & development (R&D) companies employed 27.1 million workers worldwide in 2008, including 18.5 million domestically, according to a new report from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The Business R&D and Innovation Survey, developed jointly with the U.S. Census Bureau, found that employees who perform or directly support R&D activities accounted for 1.9 million jobs, or 7.1 percent of the workforce. Moreover, 77 percent of the R&D employees, or 1.5 million, worked in the United States. The data is important because it will help show how R&D activities directly influence the creation and diffusion of knowledge, and thus impact innovation and economic growth. The preliminary employment data also shows that R&D accounted for 31 percent of employment in scientific R&D services; 27 percent of employment associated with communications equipment; and 25 percent of employment associated with computer systems design and related services. The final data will be available in early 2011, and will further break down R&D employment by selected occupational category, level of educational attainment, and sex. The survey will also provide the number of non-U.S. citizens working as R&D scientists and engineers in the United States with temporary visas.
Artificial Intelligence for Improving Team Sports
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (07/12/10)
Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) researchers are developing a system for evaluating sport performance by using artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically analyze a play's development. The goal is to determine certain performance indicators in team sports that are most effective for each case. "In the near future, performance analysis of executions and decisions in real time could be made, providing precise feedback to improve performance during competition," says UC3M researcher Miguel Angel Patricio. The project uses AI to evaluate the actions that constitute plays in team sports. One advantage of this type of system is that it applies objectivity when analyzing the game without having to depend on a human expert who studies the opponent and who might obtain different results according to his or her background, knowledge, or the context, according to the researchers. "Through these techniques, we are trying to interpret a large quantity of acquired information to find relationships and patterns which may even be unknown to experts in sports activities," Patricio says.
Autonomous Cars Could Let Drivers Check Email
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (07/07/10) Wagner, Siobhan
Oxford University researchers are developing autonomous vehicle technology that enables drivers to check their email while the car drives itself. The technology uses data from onboard sensors, cameras, radars, lasers, and downloaded information such as aerial photos and real-time Internet queries. The project aims to create a car with a central computer that is capable of continuously learning from experiences and interpreting situations, says Oxford's Paul Newman. The researchers plan to test the technology on a car driven around a privately hired race track to investigate a variety of safety issues, including whether the car can handle various weather conditions, road surfaces, pedestrian hazards, and lighting. Newman says that more sophisticated intelligent vehicle technology makes the concept of an autonomous vehicle realistic. "Cars are going to have infinite computation and access to infinite storage because they are going to be connected to the Internet the whole time, which is the cloud," he says.
Teaching Machine Sticks to Script in South Korea
New York Times (07/09/10) Sang-Hun, Choe
South Korea plans to rely more on robots to teach English to its young students. Importing thousands of native English speakers to live on its islands and other remote areas is increasingly difficult and expensive. Choi Mun-taek, a team leader at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology's Center for Intelligent Robotics, recently demonstrated Engkey to sixth graders in Seoul. Engkey is a small, penguin-shaped robot with wheels and arms that can track a student around a classroom and speak with a male or female synthesized voice. A screen on its chest shows stars that grade the student. However, Engkey still has a long way to go because it can only carry out scripted conversation. Mun-taek wants to improve Engkey's ability to recognize students, discern and respond to a student's voice amid noise, as well as add more conversational scenarios. More tests are planned for this winter. "In three to five years, Engkey will mature enough to replace native speakers," Mun-taek says.
Submarine Robots Learn Teamwork
ICT Results (07/07/10)
The European Union-funded GREX project has developed networking technologies and software that enable heterogeneous autonomous underwater robots to work together as a team. The project's researchers say GREX's results can extend the range of underwater exploration. They note that there is high demand for robotic functionality and the number of potential applications is huge, from studying hydrothermal vents and their ecosystems to making discoveries in biology, geology, and magnetism. "Scientific applications are an important area for submarine exploration and it requires adaptable software that can be applied to many different tasks," says GREX's Michael Jarowinsky. He notes that seawater makes coordinating multiple autonomous unmanned vehicles problematic because it limits bandwidth and makes communication difficult. "So we did not work with individual vehicles, we sought to create a GREX box that incorporates communications ... tied into the vehicle controls," Jarowinsky says. "This can be simply added to existing vehicles, dramatically increasing their functionality."
Phony Twitter Profiles Aim to Outwit Spammers
Technology Review (07/09/10) Simonite, Tom
Texas A&M University (TAMU) researcher Kyumin Lee has developed software that sets up Twitter accounts that act as honeypots to collect information on tactics used by spammers. Lee, working with TAMU colleagues James Caverlee and Brian David Eoff and the Georgia Institute of Technology's Steve Webb, created 60 Twitter accounts to attract the attention of spammers. The honeypot accounts automatically post updates drawn from a collection of 120,000 real tweets harvested from Twitter. The researchers also set up honeypots on MySpace, and created software that uses dummy profiles on both networks to learn about spammer tactics. "It looks at what they put in their messages and also accesses their profile to see their demographic information and past updates," Lee says. The honeypots gather data that can be used to train classifier algorithms, which identify spammers that have not yet contacted a honeypot. The fact that social network honeypots are a part of a community is a fundamental difference from the conventional approach, says Boston University's Azer Bestavros. The researchers are experimenting with varying the output and demographic characteristics of the honeypots to discover what most attracts spammers.
Google's Do-It-Yourself App Creation Software
New York Times (07/11/10) Lohr, Steve
Google is offering software designed to make it simple for users to create their own applications for Android smartphones. The free software, called Google App Inventor for Android, has been under development for a year, with user testing being done by several different demographics, including sixth graders, high school girls, nursing students, and university undergraduates who are not computer science majors. "The goal is to enable people to become creators, not just consumers, in this mobile world," says Google's Harold Abelson. The project is intended to give users a simple tool to let them tinker with smartphone software. The software enables people to drag and drop blocks of code and put them together, similar to snapping together Lego blocks. The tool is Web-based except for a small software download that automatically syncs the programs created on a personal computer. "These aren't the slickest applications in the world," Abelson says. "But they are ones ordinary people can make, often in a matter of minutes."
Avatars to Teach the Teachers
Inside Higher Ed (07/07/10) Kolowich, Steve
University of Central Florida researchers working on the TeachME project have developed a virtual classroom of student avatars designed to teach instructors more effective student-teacher engagement. The teacher-in-training stands before a projection screen depicting five student avatars remotely operated by acting students or hired professionals. The use of human "interactors" removes the parameters that would make an artificially intelligent simulation a bad choice for training instructors in classroom education, says TeachME project coordinator Lisa Dieker. Each of the avatars is designed to embody one of four types cognitive psychologists use to classify personalities--aggressive-independent, passive-independent, aggressive-dependent, and passive-dependent. The goal of the TeachME project is to replace the often hazardous traditional classroom management training strategy with something safer and more effective. TeachME researchers say the avatars behave so realistically that the virtual classroom could dramatically enhance the preparedness of neophyte teachers and reduce instructor turnover--while at the same time lowering students' exposure to unready teachers.
Search Engines Learn How to Watch and Listen to Video
New Scientist (07/07/10) Morgan, Gareth
Researchers are working to develop new video search technologies that do not rely on text-based methods such as metadata. For example, video and audio search engine Blinkx uses speech recognition algorithms to interrogate a video directly. The transcripts it generates provide more data for the text-based search engine. The algorithms attempt to parse a block of speech into phonemes, then reconstruct a sentence out of the phonemes. It might be possible to use the images themselves as part of the search. Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool project is using computer vision algorithms to analyze surveillance footage for important events. At the University of Amsterdam (UA), researchers are studying semantic querying, which involves teaching a search engine to recognize semantic concepts. "So with a new video, the model is applied and automatically a measure is given of how likely it is that the concept is present in that video," says UA's Marcel Worring. Semantic querying can work on multiple levels, so it can narrow the search more effectively.
Project Success Stories--Brain Wave Hits Computer Science Research
CORDIS News (Belgium) (07/07/10)
European researchers working on the Daisy project studied the human brain's neocortex with the hopes of ushering in a new era of computer science research. The researchers wanted to acquire a deep understanding of the functioning of neocortical daisy architectures to inspire new approaches to computer design. The ability to build a general-purpose, adaptive computer architecture based on a better understanding of the cortex can change the nature and scope of computer applications, says Daisy project lead researcher Rodney Douglas, director of Zurich's Institute of Neuroinformatics. The project sought to characterize daisy architectures, determine what type of processing they support, and develop hardware and software to emulate cortical processing. "It definitely goes in the direction of saying that we should see the cortex as one big continuous sheet probably with a very fundamental underlying structure, which is modified locally to carry out specific operations," Douglas says. The project made important advances in neuroscience and neuroanatomy, developed a working hypothesis for cortical processing, and created demonstrators to show that hypothesis could be replicated in hardware.
Flash on College Web Sites Poses Security Risk for Students, Study Says
Chronicle of Higher Education (07/08/10) Truong, Kelly
Adobe Flash may leave college Web sites and students' personal data vulnerable to hackers. In a test for security vulnerabilities, University of Worcester researchers scanned 250 college Web sites and found that about 20 percent ran applications containing personal information within a Flash plug-in. According to Worcester's Joanne Kuzma, Colin Price, and Richard Henson, six sites had "high-critical problems" because they contained scripts that could be manipulated by hackers. Individual servers used by academic departments are not set up through the school's information technology department and unknowingly pose security risks, according to their report, which suggests the Web sites may not be as secure as the systems of their universities. Flash software also contains bugs that may expose machines, says Georgia Institute of Technology professor Mustaque Ahamad. "From what I understand, hackers have exploited Web security holes to taint and upload Flash files to university Web sites," he says.
Rice Program Takes on Protein Puzzle
Rice University (07/06/10) Williams, Mike
Rice University researchers have developed software that accurately simulates protein folding much faster than previous methods, which they say will enable scientists to look deeper into the roots of diseases caused by proteins that fold incorrectly. "This is a technically challenging task, and many groups around the world have been competing for years to make the process faster and more accurate," says Rice professor Jianpeng Ma. Understanding the nuances of protein folding is an important step in deciphering the genetic code of all living things. Proteins always find their way to their native states in an instant, but exactly how they do it is a mystery. The researchers employed two novel strategies--continuously variable temperature and single-copy simulation. "The single-copy approach uses only one simulation, essentially, to find the native state of the protein," Ma says. "This is a major plus, because anyone with reasonable computing power can run this method."
ETH Life (07/02/10)
ETH Zurich researchers have developed intelligent textiles that have electronic components such as sensors and conductive filaments woven into the fabric. The researchers first developed technology that attaches thin-film electronics and miniature chips to plastic fibers. The fibers were then integrated into the material's architecture using customary textile machines. The researchers say that despite the woven-in electronic components, the fabric looks good and is foldable. It also feels like normal material, and because the microchips are encapsulated, the material can be washed several times in a washing machine using a mild detergent without damaging the e-fibers. The researchers have already produced a tablecloth with temperature and humidity sensors and an undershirt that measures body temperature.
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