Welcome to the September 17, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
White House Advisers Call for Big Changes to Improve Science Education
Science Insider (09/16/10) Jeffery Mervis
A recent President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report calls on the U.S. government to spend close to $1 billion on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at the pre-college level. The report also offers several reforms designed to help achieve President Obama's stated goal of lifting U.S. students "from the middle of the pack" in international tests of science and math achievement. "The federal government has historically lacked--and still lacks--sufficient leadership capacity dedicated to STEM education," according to the PCAST report. Specifically, the report recommends spending $360 million a year to create 1,000 new STEM-focused elementary, middle, and high schools, $325 million a year to raise the salaries of about 22,000 math and science teachers across the U.S., and up to $200 million a year to develop a new agency focused on research for new educational technologies and digital classroom materials.
U.S. Cybersecurity Plans Lagging, Critics Say
The Washington Post (09/17/10) P. A3 Ellen Nakashima
The U.S. government is still struggling with key cybersecurity issues more than a year after President Obama deemed the protection of computer systems a national priority. In 2009 the administration revealed a cyberspace policy review, while the president appointed White House cybercoordinator Howard Schmidt to bring the government's initiatives into sync--but the administration is still debating whether it requires new legal authorities or whether such actions are permitted by existing statutes. Critics also charge that officials have failed to allay privacy fears or determine the extent to which the government should regulate or cooperate with the private sector to ensure that critical industries are shielded against hackers. Meanwhile, Congress has drafted numerous cybersecurity bills, but the White House has yet to assume a stance on any of them. "You've got a lot of agreement on what the problem is but very little agreement on the solution, both within the government and outside," notes James A. Lewis with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Deputy Defense secretary William J. Lynn III recently said that the threat to the intellectual property of the government, universities, and businesses may represent "the most significant cyberthreat" facing the United States. Schmidt stresses the importance of private-public collaboration to secure the U.S.'s computer networks, and says that progress has been made.
Study Recommends Reporting E-Voting Machine Defects to National Database
Computerworld (09/16/10) Jaikumar Vijayan
New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice is calling on the U.S. government to create a national, searchable database for reporting and recording information on defects in electronic-voting systems. The Brennan Center also wants to see the creation of a federal statute that would require e-voting machine manufacturers to report any known defects in their products under penalty of law. A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice found a lack of vendor accountability for problems caused by defective voting machines, says senior counsel Lawrence Norden. "When we spoke to election officials, many times we found that vendors were aware of problems with their systems or should have known about them," Norden says. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC), created as part of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, is responsible for testing e-voting machines. The EAC has a system in place for alerting election officials of the results of the tests, but it only applies to relatively new e-voting machines and not the vast majority of older systems that are used around the country, according to Norden's report.
Fuzzy Thinking Could Spot Heart Disease Risk
Anna University's Khanna Nehemiah and colleagues have used fuzzy logic, a neural network computer program, and genetic algorithms to create a medical diagnostic system for predicting the risk of cardiovascular disease in patients. They employed fuzzy logic to teach a neural network to examine patient data and identify correlations that would indicate a person's risk factor. The medical diagnostic system has produced a statistical model that improves on previous efforts and is accurate 90 percent of the time in determining patient risk, according to the researchers. "A clinical-decision support system should consider issues like representation of medical knowledge, decision making in the presence of uncertainty and imprecision, choice and adaptation of a suitable model," according to the researchers. They say the new model addresses all of these points. The fuzzy neural network could be further enhanced by modifying its architecture, and by extracting generic rules to find a more precise risk factor.
Self-Organizing Traffic Lights
ETH Zurich (09/15/10)
Researchers at TU Dresden's Institute of Transport & Economics and ETH Zurich are working to ease traffic congestion by enabling traffic lights to organize their own on-off schedules using traffic-responsive operating rules. The researchers developed traffic lights equipped with sensors that feed information about the traffic conditions at a given moment into a computer chip, which calculates the flow of vehicles expected in the near future. The system determines how long the lights should stay green in order to clear the road. The researchers designed the system so that what happens at one set of traffic lights would effect how the others respond. The traffic lights work together in monitoring traffic to prevent big jams from forming. Computer simulations show that lights operating this way would achieve a reduction in overall traffic times by 10 percent to 30 percent.
New Supercomputer 'Sees' Well Enough to Drive a Car Someday
Yale University (09/15/10) Suzanne Taylor Muzzin
Yale University researcher Eugenio Culurciello has developed NeuFlow, a supercomputer based on the human visual system that is embedded on a single chip. NeuFlow mimics the human visual system's neural network to quickly interpret the world around it. Culurciello says that eventually it could be used to enable cars to drive themselves. "The complete system is going to be no bigger than a wallet, so it could easily be embedded in cars and other places," he says. New York University researcher Yann LeCun developed complex algorithms that the system uses to run its synthetic vision applications. Culurciello says the system is extremely efficient, using only a few watts to run more than 100 billion operations per second. "One of our first prototypes of this system is already capable of outperforming graphic processors on vision tasks," he says. The system also could be used to improve robot navigation, provide 360-degree synthetic vision for soldiers in combat, or help the elderly in assisted-living situations.
Powerful Argument for Cutting IT Energy Consumption
Financial Times (09/15/10) Rod Newing
Although technology is growing more and more energy efficient, more innovation is needed to offset the growing use of computers in countries such as India and China. The focus on innovation "has also sparked the redesign of technology and the revival of old ideas that have gained a new relevance to reduce resource use and cut greenhouse gas emissions," says 1E CEO Sumir Karayi. Better use of server capacity, optimizing cooling, more energy-efficient equipment, and reducing data and applications can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent, according to Deutsche Telekom. T-systems and Intel are researching energy-efficient data centers and focusing on reducing power usage effectiveness. "As IT becomes more dynamic with virtualization and cloud computing, a new dynamic data center infrastructure is emerging that is more closely integrated with the IT assets it supports, flexible in its deployment, and adaptable to rapidly changing operational conditions--like a green data factory," says Pike Research's Eric Woods. The next step is to use intelligent software to manage energy consumption by the servers.
ICANN Warns Against Government Control of the Internet
iTWire (09/15/10) Stuart Corner
ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, speaking at the recent Internet Governance Forum (IGF), said that all Internet stakeholders must strive to keep Internet governance out of the hands of intergovernmental organizations. If governments get more involved in the Internet, Beckstrom argues that "most Internet users--businesses, service providers, nonprofits, and consumers--would be shut out of the governance debate." The future of the IGF is set to be decided at a United Nations General Assembly meeting in December. Beckstrom said the proof of the multi-stakeholder model lies in the successful operation of the Internet. "If governance were to become the exclusive province of nation states or captured by any other interests, we would lose the foundation of the Internet's long-term potential and transformative value," he warned. Beckstrom praised the IGF as a valuable public forum where all stakeholders are equally represented to address these issues for the common good. "Its greatest values are its egalitarian philosophy and its inclusiveness," he said.
Google, Georgia Tech Develop Video Screen 'Retargeting'
InformationWeek (09/15/10) Thomas Claburn
Video images can be displayed on screens with different aspect ratios without noticeable distortion or image loss using a new process developed by researchers at Google and Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech's Matthias Grundmann and Google research scientist Vivek Kwatra worked with other Georgia Tech researchers to develop an algorithm that "retargets" videos to better fit the form factor of a given display device. "Our approach uses all of the screen's precious pixels, while striving to deliver as much video content of the original as possible," Grundmann and Kwatra say. "The result is a video that adapts to your needs, so you don't have to adapt to the video." The team used the discontinuous seam-carving technique to alter sequences of video frames by leaving salient details such as faces intact while compressing or stretching non-salient areas such as backgrounds.
New iPhone App, "MedWatcher," to Support Real-Time Drug Safety Surveillance
Children's Hospital Boston (09/14/10) Keri Stedman
Children's Hospital Boston (CHB) researchers, in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have developed MedWatcher, an iPhone application designed to engage health care professionals and the general public in drug safety issues and real-time pharmacovigilance. MedWatcher enables users to track the latest drug safety updates provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and incorporates information about medications listed in FDA databases. Users also can see reviews by patients and providers. "Our hope is that through the release of MedWatcher, we will prompt increased participation in surveillance, empowering people to participate in the public health process, but also potentially allowing us to crowd source problem drugs which will lead to better understandings of side effects of medicines, and possibly even bring about earlier detection and prevention," says CHB's Clark Freifeld.
Tiny MAVs May Someday Explore and Detect Environmental Hazards
Air Force Print News (09/14/10) Maria Callier
The next phase of high-performance micro air vehicles (MAVs) for the Air Force could involve insect-sized robots for monitoring and exploring hazardous environments. "We are developing a suite of capabilities which we hope will lead to MAVs that exceed the capabilities of existing small aircraft," says Harvard University researcher Robert Wood. His team is studying how wing design can impact performance for an insect-size, flapping-wing vehicle. The research also will shape the devices' assembly, power supply, and control systems. The team is constructing wings and moving them at high frequencies to recreate trajectories that are similar to an insect's. The researchers are able to measure multiple-force components, and monitor fluid flow around the wings flapping in excess of 100 times per second. The team also is conducting high-speed stereoscopic motion tracking, force measurements, and flow visualization to better understand these systems.
Can Russia Build a Silicon Valley?
TechCrunch (09/12/10) Vivek Wadhwa
University of California, Berkeley visiting scholar Vivek Wadhwa says that Russia's efforts to build a Silicon Valley will be challenging due to the lack of a culture of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and openness. However, Wadhwa notes that no other region in the world has been able to replicate Silicon Valley's success. He encourages Russia to build a different type of innovation and research hub that is more focused on science and engineering. Still, Russia faces many challenges. Foreign investors are discouraged by rules of law that fail to match countries such as the United States and those in Western Europe. Russian bureaucracies are confusing, corruption is rampant, and powerful oligarchs dominate crucial industries. Until these problems are fixed, technological entrepreneurship cannot flourish, Wadhwa says. Russia also needs to teach entrepreneurship to experienced workers as well as university students. In addition, Russian president Medvedev should provide a vision for the challenges that Russian society faces and ask entrepreneurs to help solve them. Russia also should try to attract foreign entrepreneurs, especially those from Eastern Europe and South Asia, with incentives that will encourage them to start companies.
MIT News (09/10/10) Morgan Bettex
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab professor Tod Machover has spent more than a decade inventing the technology for a new opera premiering in September that could redefine the technological enhancement of live performance. Machover says he designed the technique of disembodied performance to complement the singers rather than overshadow them, which he sees as a problem in contemporary musical performances. Machover's opera, "Death and the Powers," features a character who is offstage most of the time, and who expresses himself through elements that include an animated set of bookcases and a chandelier that emits light and has Teflon strings that can channel the unseen character's presence when they are strummed. In addition, there are nine life-size singing robots that function as a chorus and frame the narrative. The disembodied performance is rendered through software that measures both conscious and unconscious aspects of the singer's performance, such as volume, pitch, muscle tension, and breathing patterns.
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