Welcome to the February 9, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
100-Petaflop Supercomputers Predicted By 2017
InformationWeek (02/08/11) Antone Gonsalves
University of Tennessee's Jack Dongarra predicts that there will be 100-petaflop supercomputer systems by 2017, and exascale systems, which could be 1,000 times faster than petascale systems, by 2020. "This will happen if the funding is in place for those machines," says Dongarra, who helped design the testing system used to generate the Top500 supercomputing list. IBM plans to build 10-petaflop computer systems at both the Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the next year, as well as a 20-petaflop system at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2012. Cray also is ready to launch a 10-petaflop system. "Everything is moving along according to Moore's law, so things are doubling every 18 months, roughly," Dongarra says. IBM's new systems will feature Blue Gene supercomputers, called Blue Gene/Q, and will run on specially designed systems-on-a-chip. The Argonne System will be used for industry, academic, and government work, while the Livermore system will be used for advanced uncertainty quantification simulations and weapons development.
RoboEarth: A World Wide Web for Robots
IEEE Spectrum (02/05/11) Markus Waibel
The European-led RoboEarth project aims to create a worldwide, open source platform that any robot with a network connection can link with to generate, share, and reuse data. The project also wants to show that the system can accelerate robot learning and adaptation in complex tasks, and that RoboEarth-connected robots can complete new tasks that may not have been part of an original plan, writes RoboEarth researcher Markus Waibel. He says the project is based on the idea that if robots are going work alongside humans in the future, they will need to be able to share information and build on each other's experiences. The robots will be able to access prior information used by different robots to complete tasks. As robots continue to perform their tasks and pool their data, the quality of prior information will improve and begin to reveal underlying patterns and correlations about the robots, their tasks, and their environment. Waibel says robots need an Internet-like platform in which to work because human society is so complex that it cannot be summarized within a limited set of rules, and a Web for robots will enable them to successfully solve more problems.
A.I. Expert Ray Kurzweil Picks Computer in Jeopardy! Match
USA Today (02/09/11) Sam Meddis
Ray Kurzweil expects IBM's Watson computer to win, or at least come very close, when it competes against former Jeopardy! champions next week. Kurzweil says the competition represents a major threshold for artificial intelligence technology. "The key to human intelligence is really mastering the subtleties of human language, things like puns and jokes and metaphors," he says. "And if you look at the queries in Jeopardy! you see they're quite complex and subtle, and exactly what's being talked about is not so clear. Watson appears to be able to get it very well, as well as the best players." Kurzweil predicts that even if Watson doesn't win, it will very soon, "because it's only going to get better. And humans are not getting better." He also predicts that in the next 35 years, the current level of computer intelligence will multiply by a billionfold, which he says is not that outrageous considering how far computers have come in the past 35 years. However, he dismisses warnings that computers will eventually take over the world. "It's not an alien invasion. They're not coming from Mars to displace us," he says. "We're creating them to make ourselves smarter. We're going to literally merge with them."
Roaches Inspire Robotics
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (02/07/11)
Tel Aviv University researchers are studying the way cockroaches move to develop more advanced robotic technology. Although robots have been based on cockroaches in the past, the walking techniques have been influenced by outside observation, instead of internal mechanics. The researchers want to develop new robots that have a more compact body structure and are more energy efficient. "Not only do cockroaches arguably exhibit one of the most stable ways to walk, called a tripod gate, but they move equally quickly on every kind of terrain," says Tel Aviv professor Amir Ayali. The researchers are studying the cockroach's nervous system to determine how sensory feedback from one leg influences the coordination of the other legs. Robotics researchers also are gaining inspiration from other types of insects. Scientists are studying the aerodynamic build and metabolism of locusts to develop robots that can fly great distances. Ayali says other researchers are studying caterpillars to develop soft-bodied robots that have endless degrees of freedom of movement.
Obama Proposes Education Technology Agency Modeled After DARPA
Science Insider (02/04/11) Jeffrey Mervis
The Obama administration wants to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education (ARPA-ED), an education technology agency that would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. ARPA-ED would fund the development of new information and communications technologies that teachers and students can use such as a digital tutor. Currently, federal agencies fund only a handful of education technology projects, and most local districts do not have the money to purchase new education technologies. ARPA-ED also would promote the use of new information and communications technologies in the classroom. Studies show that less than 0.1 percent of the $600 billion spent each year on elementary and secondary school education goes toward research on how students learn. "There are a number of good ideas and promising early results about the use of education technology that have led the administration to be interested in doing more in this area," says an administration official.
Smart Tool Could Spot Dodgy Domains and Block Botnets
New Scientist (02/08/11) Jacob Aron
International Secure Systems Lab researchers led by Leyla Bilge have developed Exposure, a tool that identifies malicious domains by analyzing traffic in specific parts of the domain name system (DNS). Exposure analyzes DNS traffic to find clues that indicate malicious behavior, such as domains that suddenly appear before disappearing shortly after attacks, or domain names containing lots of numbers and few meaningful words, which are often used to control botnets. Bilge worked with a French Internet service provider to test Exposure, which identified more than 3,000 previously unknown malevolent domains. "I think it's quite a valuable addition to the methods that we already have," says University of Birmingham computer scientist Marco Cova. He says Exposure's learning abilities also are valuable. "Once you describe a system someone can devise methods to bypass it," Cova says. "With a system like this it wouldn't be hard to add a new feature to monitor."
Female Scientists Face New Career Challenges
USA Today (02/07/11) Dave Vergano
A new Cornell University report examines female representation in the sciences and the factors that affect the inequalities in the field between men and women. "Among the top 100 U.S. universities, only 8.8-15.8 percent of tenure-track positions in many math-intensive fields are held by women, and female full professors number (less than or equal to) 10 percent," say Cornell's Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, the authors of the report. The researchers found that part of the discrepancy comes from women making free or constrained choices related to raising a family. The researchers examined 20 years worth of data on female study reviews, hiring, and funding practices. Although women who were given the same resources as men had generally equal careers, the researchers found that women were more likely to abandon their careers than men. The researchers agree with a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, which recommends allowing part-time work to be available to female scientists. "Regarding the role of math-related career preferences, adolescent girls often prefer careers focusing on people as opposed to things, and this preference accounts for their burgeoning numbers in such fields as medicine and biology, and their smaller presence in math-intensive fields such as computer science, physics, engineering, chemistry, and mathematics, even when math ability is equated," according to the report.
IT Job Sector Continues to Strengthen: Report
eWeek (02/07/11) Nathan Eddy
Information technology-related (IT) jobs experienced a net gain of 11,800 in January, the eighth straight month of positive growth, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Five bellwether IT job segments had a net gain of 74,200 jobs over the past 12 months, led by management and technical consulting services and computer systems design and related services segments, which together accounted for close to 95 percent of all new IT jobs. Foote Partners CEO David Foote says the government defines the IT professional narrowly, recognizing just 21 job titles, which are all traditional infrastructure jobs in systems analysis, programming, data communications and networks, tech support, and database administration. "The role of technology in the enterprise is now so pervasive that managing it is no longer entrusted to one group but instead split among every department, function, line of business and product group," Foote says. "The job of each one of these entities is to determine how to make the best use of information technology for producing revenues and profitability, building market share, ensuring satisfied customers, controlling costs, innovating solutions, and generally to stay competitive in their industries."
The Virtual Twitterverse That Can Forecast the Real Thing
Technology Review (02/07/11)
The widespread use of Twitter has attracted many researchers, but the data is difficult to collect due to the sheer volume of it and because of legal and privacy rules that prevent the distribution of certain types of information. However, Telefonica Research's Vijay Erramilli and his team have created a virtual Twitterverse, called Social Network Write Generator (SONG), which has all the defining features of the real Twitter without any of the tweeters. The researchers want to use SONG to develop datasets that scientists can use to study how different scenarios will play out in the real world. The researchers built their model by studying a huge dataset of tweeting activity gathered between Nov. 25 and Dec. 4, 2008, and creating a social graph with more than 2 million nodes and more than 38 million edges. Although the researchers have yet to determine if SONG can accurately recreate all aspects of the real Twitter network, they say it appears capable of recreating parts of it, which could be helpful to potential users.
When Cars Talk to One Another
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication Systems ESK have developed a system that makes it possible to network vehicles with one another and an infrastructure. The car-to-x communications (C2X) technology will enable software systems to structure communications between an electronic unit in a vehicle and the outside world. The goal is to provide drivers with extra support to make better decisions about traffic and road conditions, and to help improve traffic safety and efficiency. "This system is premised upon on a [wireless local area network] specifically developed for vehicles in combination with [global positioning systems]," says Fraunhofer ESK's Josef Jiru. "The vehicle's position and sensor data on speed, acceleration, or sliding can be reported to wireless communication nodes on the side of the road--called roadside units (RSUs)." RSUs would give vehicles periodic standardized messages on information such as position, direction of motion, and speed; event-based information such as notifications of accidents and traffic jams; and application information on traffic-light sequences.
New Researcher Brings Bacteria Findings to University
Diamondback (02/04/11) Claire Saravia
Bacteria can evolve antibiotic resistance and other new abilities by copying genes from other bacteria, according to research that University of Maryland scientist Todd Treangen brought with him from France's Institut Pasteur. Special protein groups present in the bacteria accord the organisms many unique characteristics, Treangen says. His research suggests the bacteria he observed acquired an average of 95 percent of certain protein groups via horizontal gene transfer. Previous research indicated that this process was only responsible for about 20 percent to 40 percent of the bacteria's characteristics, Treangen says. He says that more study must be done to determine the significance of his findings, including whether similar levels of horizontal gene transfer are demonstrated in other bacteria he did not analyze. Computer science professor Mihai Pop studies genomic data with Treangen at the university's Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. He says such research could be a platform for new models where bacteria is utilized advantageously in the future. "Understanding how bacteria evolves new functions can help us evolve bacteria to do more useful things for us," Pop notes.
Google and CNRS Support Five Computer Science Research Teams
CNRS (02/02/11) Priscilla Dacher
Google and CNRS will support the optimization research of five French computer science laboratories in 2011. The partnership calls for Google to provide the research teams with funding and for CNRS to provide two three-year Ph.D. grants and a technology transfer engineer. The sponsorship will enable the teams to make further progress in fundamental research in optimization and should lead to applications in areas such as transport, networks, and production management. For example, the research could be used to design a new generation of fiber-optic networks, optimize the exchange of data packets in wireless networks, and manage and optimize resources in multi-organization and multi-user environments. The partnership also could lead to crossover initiatives and joint projects. Google and CNRS will support Denis Trystram's team at the Laboratoire d'Informatique de Grenoble, Pierre Bonami's team at the Laboratoire d'Informatique Fondamentale de Marseille, Narendra Jussien's team at the Laboratoire d'Informatique de Nantes Atlantique, Safia Kedad-Sidhoum's team at the Laboratoire d'Informatique de Paris 6, and Pierre Lopez's team at the Laboratoire CNRS d'Analyse et d'Architecture des Systemes de Toulouse.
Cloud Services Could Bolster National Cyber Security
Network World (02/02/11) Tim Greene
U.S. cybersecurity could be significantly fortified by a move to cloud computing, which would focus cybersecurity on a relatively small number of service providers rather than a massive cohort of individual businesses, according to a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The move to the cloud is not a silver bullet that will solve all cybersecurity problems, but it is part of a larger move to a more mature infrastructure that includes the automation of security practices and monitoring--such as the Security Content Automation Protocol--particularly if we find a better way for service providers to work more effectively with government agencies," the report says. Since the center's inaugural report on cybersecurity in 2008, the Obama administration has failed to deploy measures to shield the country from cyberattacks, to the degree that it cannot defend itself against terrorist-led cyberwarfare, the report says. The report also dismisses public-private partnerships to formulate and implement cybersecurity as unworkable, and notes that private networks in particular are largely undefended. Among the report's recommendations are implementing authentication for anyone who uses critical infrastructure, and establishing security standards for products the federal government purchases to promote the general use of more secure infrastructure.
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