Welcome to the September 10, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Researchers Give Robots the Capability for Deceptive Behavior
Georgia Institute of Technology (09/09/10) Abby Vogel Robinson
Georgia Tech researchers are experimenting with algorithms designed to give robots the capability for deceptive behavior. "We have developed algorithms that allow a robot to determine whether it should deceive a human or other intelligent machine and we have designed techniques that help the robot select the best deceptive strategy to reduce its chance of being discovered," says Georgia Tech professor Ronald Arkin. The researchers are focusing on robot-robot and human-robot interactions. "Most social robots will probably rarely use deception, but it's still an important tool in the robot's interactive arsenal because robots that recognize the need for deception have advantages in terms of outcome compared to robots that do not recognize the need for deception," says Georgia Tech's Alan Wagner. The researchers studied the actions, beliefs, and communications of a robot attempting to hide from another robot to develop programs that successfully produced deceptive behavior. Wagner and Arkin also used interdependence theory and game theory to develop systems that tested the value of deception in certain situations.
Engaging Girls in STEM
THE Journal (09/08/10) Bridget McCrea
Girls in the United States are no more interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers than they were 20 years ago. In a recent Florida Gulf Coast University and University of Colorado at Boulder study, researchers found that 66 percent of young boys and girls are interested in science. However, the study found that by the time they reach high school, many girls do not continue to study science. The researchers also found that in the workforce, men outnumbered women 73 percent to 27 percent in all sectors of STEM employment. Getting more girls involved with STEM requires deliberate strategies on the part of educators to connect learning with real-life experiences, says Discovery Educator Network's Lance Rougeux. The Hathaway Brown School, an all-girls college preparatory academy, found that just 16 percent of girls entering a four-year college choose a STEM major, and just 8.5 percent actually graduated with STEM degrees. U.S. high schools should combine college-prep coursework with hands-on experience in engineering research, robotics, and nanotechnology labs, says Hathaway Brown director Patty Hunt.
Obama Calls for Permanent R&D Tax Credit
IDG News Service (09/08/10) Grant Gross
U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Congress to make permanent a research and development (R&D) tax credit for U.S. companies as part of an effort to reinvigorate the national economy. The plan would enlarge the tax credit from about $7 billion per year to about $10 billion per year over the next 10 years. In addition, the formula businesses use to calculate their credit would be reconfigured so that firms using a streamlined formula will receive a tax credit of 17 percent for R&D spending, rather than 14 percent. The R&D credit has garnered the support of technology groups. "The R&D credit is one of the strongest tools our nation has to spur the cutting-edge innovation that will drive the creation of more American jobs," says TechNet CEO Rey Ramsey. Evelyn Hirt, president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA, says the credit would provide companies with economic predictability. "The technologies U.S. companies develop or improve will ultimately have a positive effect on U.S. competitiveness, the growth of small businesses, and job creation," Hirt says. The permanent R&D credit would replace the temporary credit, which expired last December.
Preventing Smart-Phone Armageddon
Technology Review (09/08/10) Christopher Mims
Attacks against smartphones are likely to proliferate because of their growing ubiquity and the sensitive information they carry. However, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder believe they have devised an effective way to vet smartphones for viruses. Smartphones lack the battery life to constantly run onboard virus-scanning software, so Bryan Dixon and Shivakant Mishra have proposed running virus scans on PCs to which the smartphones are frequently linked. A smartphone would be able to transmit hashes of all large files, and a PC would be able to use the information to ascertain which files have changed since the last time the phone was connected. Only those files would be scanned to save time. Although the strategy would not be able to defeat a rootkit, there are ways for determining whether a phone has been compromised in this manner, such as by timing how long the phone takes to respond to specific challenges. Although smartphones are still vulnerable to an attack that would overload the network and make it almost impossible for calls to get through, the required scale and limited reach of smartphone viruses, Trojan horses, and rootkits make such an event unlikely.
Carnegie Mellon Researchers Develop Method to Help Computer Vision Systems Decipher Outdoor Scenes
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (09/09/10)
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed a system that enables computers to extract more information from an image by analyzing the physical constraints of the scene. The CMU computer system analyzes an outdoor scene by using virtual blocks to build a three-dimensional model of the image that makes sense based on volume and mass. CMU professor Alexei A. Efros says the approach could be used to understand the objects in a scene, in addition to the spaces in between those objects and what might lie behind areas blocked by objects in the foreground. The method involves separating the image into various segments that correspond to objects in the image. Once the ground and sky are identified, other segments are assigned potential geometric shapes. The method is more than 70 percent accurate in estimating the layout of surfaces, and its performance is almost as good when comparing its segmentation to ground truth, says CMU's Abhinav Gupta.
BYU Research Predicts Path of Lost Hikers
Brigham Young University (09/08/10) Jared Whipple
Computer models developed at Brigham Young University (BYU) could help search and rescue teams in their effort to find lost hikers. BYU's Lanny Lin says the statistical models calculate where a lost hiker will go when he or she encounters steep slopes, dense vegetation, or water, which will help search teams better allocate their resources for rescue missions. The predictive models start at the point where a person was last seen and incorporates the amount of time he or she has been missing. The information is combined with topographical data, vegetation, slope, and terrain of the area, and updates the statistical estimates to help the search effort. Lin describes a scenario in which searchers would have fanned out to follow the original course of travel of a lost Boy Scout near a local lake, but the missing boy most likely would have looped back behind them when moving from a forest area to a nearby slope.
Escher-Like Internet Map Could Speed Online Traffic
New Scientist (09/08/10) Jacob Aron
Researchers at the University of Barcelona have developed a map of the Internet that could help eliminate network glitches. Barcelona researcher Marian Boguna fit the entire Internet into a disc using hyperbolic geometry. Each square on the map is a section of the Internet managed by a single body, such as a national government or a service provider. The most well-connected systems are close to the middle, while the least connected are at the edges. The researchers say the new map could provide coordinates for every system on the Internet, which could speed up routing traffic. Although the map shows just the number of connections between each autonomous system, the geography of the hyperbolic Internet map often reflects that of the real world. For example, a number of western European nations are clustered in one sector. The researchers also used simulations to demonstrate that a map of the Internet based on actual geographic relationships between systems trapped much more traffic within the network than the hyperbolic map.
Cloud Computing Method Greatly Increases Gene Analysis
Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (09/08/10) Tim Parsons
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health have developed Myrna, software that improves the speed at which scientists can analyze RNA sequencing data. Myrna uses cloud computing to produce a faster, more cost-effective analysis of gene expression. "Researchers struggling to keep pace with their sequencing instruments can use the cloud to scale up their analyses while avoiding the headaches associated with building and running their own computer center," says Johns Hopkins University's Ben Langmead. In one test, the researchers used the software to process a collection of publicly available RNA sequencing data and found that Myrna was able to calculate differential expression from 1.1 billion RNA sequencing reads in less than two hours at a cost of about $66. "The cloud computing approach we developed for Myrna is one way that statisticians can quickly build different models to find the relevant patterns in sequencing data and connect them to different diseases," says Johns Hopkins University's Jeffrey T. Leek.
Researchers Design More Accurate Method of Determining Premature Infants' Risk of Illness
Stanford Medicine (09/08/10) Dianne Klein
Stanford University researchers have developed a non-invasive system for quickly predicting the future health of premature infants. The researchers say the PhysiScore system is a more reliable, electronic version of an Apgar score. The new system uses gestational age and birth weight, in addition to a stream of real-time data collected in neonatal intensive care units, to develop a probability scoring system for the health of prematurely born infants that outperformed the Apgar and other infant health systems. "The national push toward electronic medical records helped us create a tool to detect patterns not readily seen by the naked eye or by conventional monitoring," says Stanford professor Anna Penn. The researchers used data recorded during the first three hours after an infant's birth to determine the likelihood of developing serious illnesses with an accuracy of 91 percent to 98 percent. "The state-of-the-art techniques we used produced a flexible framework that can be optimized for other patient populations," says Stanford's Suchi Saria.
Quantum Cryptography Breached With Lasers
InformationWeek (09/08/10) Mathew J. Schwartz
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg, and the Max Planck Institute collaborated to develop a laser-based attack against quantum cryptography systems that allows them to eavesdrop on communications without revealing their presence. The researchers developed a quantum eavesdropping technique that remotely controls the photon detector, which is a key component in most quantum cryptography systems. The researchers believe that cyberattackers could breach security systems with off-the-shelf components, and obtain a perfect copy of the raw key without leaving any trace of their presence. "The security loophole we have exposed is intrinsic to a whole class of single-photon detectors, regardless of their manufacturer and model," says NTNU researcher Vadim Makarov.
Virginia Tech Researchers Develop Method to Stop Movie Villain Known as the Spoiler
Virginia Tech News (09/07/10) Steven D. Mackay
Virginia Tech researchers have developed a data-mining algorithm that uses linguistic cues to flag movie spoilers before they are read by the user. Movie Web sites such as Imdb.com flag spoilers as they catch them, "but the performance is very bad, and one of our work's target and evaluation criteria is to beat their method," says Virginia Tech Ph.D. student Sheng Guo. The program is designed to flag an entire article as a spoiler if the ending of a work is revealed. "The words have to be used in the right parts of speech and in specific relation to each other," says Virginia Tech professor Naren Ramakrishnan. The program does not delete content with spoilers, but flags them so users can decide whether to continue reading. The system also can warn writers that they have typed a spoiler. "As a poster is writing a review, the program can help analyze the relationships between the words in the review and tell him or her that the review has high probability of being ranked as a spoiler," Ramakrishnan says.
'Slow Light' on a Chip Holds Promise for Optical Communications
University of California, Santa Cruz (09/05/10) Tim Stephens
Scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and Brigham Young University have developed an optical device that has the slowest-ever light propagation on a chip, reducing the speed of light by a factor of 1,200. "Slow light and other quantum coherence effects have been known for quite awhile, but in order to use them in practical applications we have to be able to implement them on a platform that can be mass produced and will work at room temperature or higher, and that's what our chips accomplish," says UCSC professor Holger Schmidt. The device uses quantum interference effects in a rubidium vapor inside a hollow-core optical waveguide that is built into a silicon chip. The research is the first demonstration of electromagnetically induced transparency and slow light on a fully self-contained atomic spectroscopy chip. "We can potentially use this to create all-optical switches, single-photon detectors, quantum memory devices, and other exciting possibilities," Schmidt says.
Twins Are Intriguing Subjects for Notre Dame Biometrics Researchers
Notre Dame News (09/08/10) William G. Gilroy
University of Notre Dame researchers Kevin Bowyer and Patrick Flynn are developing biometrics technologies that can discriminate between identical twins. The researchers are examining how iris-recognition technologies can be used with identical twins to confirm prior claims that biometrics is capable of differentiating between twins. The researchers also are exploring whether human observers are better than current technologies at making distinctions between identical twins. In one study, the researchers captured biometrical samples of identical twins using iris and three-dimensional, face-imaging cameras. The samples were shown to a group of human volunteers, who were able to correctly classify pairs of twins with 80 percent accuracy based only on the appearance of the iris. The researchers say the study suggests that iris images could be used in more ways than they currently are by the biometrics research community.
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