Welcome to the May 18, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Which Technologies Get Better Faster?
MIT News (05/17/11) David L. Chandler
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a mathematical model to predict which technologies are the most likely to rapidly advance and therefore be worth more investment in research and resources. The researchers found that a technology's rate of progress is determined by its complexity, and their method models that complexity in a mathematical way. "It gives you a way to think about how the structure of the technology affects the rate of improvement," says MIT professor Jessika Trancik. The researchers developed the model by studying how different technologies improved over time and compared that progress to the complexity of the design. For example, the model could help policymakers solve problems such as climate change by predicting which low-carbon technologies are the most likely to rapidly improve. The analysis makes it possible to pick technologies "not just so they will work well today, but ones that will be subject to rapid development in the future," Trancik says. The researchers also found that if different technologies have certain patterns of interconnection, the pace of improvements can stall.
Obama Administration Outlines International Strategy for Cyberspace
Washington Post (05/16/11) Ellen Nakashima
President Obama recently released an international strategy for cyberspace security that focuses on developing rules for responsible state behavior with the goal of promoting a secure, open Internet and other important computer networks. The strategy is the first time an administration has attempted to outline the U.S. government's goals for cyberspace in one document. The strategy states that expanded access to secure networks is critical to economic prosperity, an argument that aims to serve as a guide for more detailed policies. "This is just the beginning of a conversation within governments, between governments, the private sector, and beyond," says White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt. The international strategy builds on a speech Obama gave two years ago in which he stated that "we will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy, and resilient." He said the United States and other nations will "oppose those who would seek to disrupt networks and systems, dissuading and deterring malicious actors, and reserving the right to defend these vital national assets as necessary and appropriate." The new plan also calls for the United States to help other countries improve their abilities to defend their networks and facilitate an open Internet.
Bringing Them Back
Inside Higher Ed (05/17/11) Dan Berrett
The University of Washington recently held the On-Ramps into Academia workshop, which aimed to encourage and coach talented and accomplished women in science and engineering to leave the private sector and become faculty members at colleges and universities. "Like everywhere, we work hard to retain women faculty and we want more faculty with real-world experience," says Matthew O'Donnell, dean of Washington's College of Engineering. The workshop is the second in a series of three, and 45 women attended the first two workshops and four have received full-time faculty positions, according to Washington electrical engineering professor Eve Riskin. Women with industry experience often bring skills, such as project management, which are not as well developed in higher education, says Washington's Joyce W. Yen. Many women who make the switch from industry to academia find that university jobs provide the intellectual and academic freedom to pursue more diverse areas of research, notes Washington professor Cecilia Aragon.
A Virtual View Beneath the Skin
Technology Review (05/17/11) Duncan Graham-Rowe
Microsoft researchers have developed AnatOnMe, a handheld device that gives physical therapy patients a virtual view of what an injury looks like beneath the skin. The tool aims to give patients more information, and help motivate them to pursue the rehab process more vigorously. The device projects an image of the underlying bone structure, muscle tissue, tendons, and nerves onto the skin so the patients can get a better understanding of their injury, according to Microsoft researcher Amy Karlson. The device consists of a projector, a digital camera, an infrared camera, and a laser pointer. In the prototype, the images are stock graphical images used to show one of six different injuries, not actual scans of the patient's body. In testing, the device was able to help patients stick to their physical therapy programs, Karlson says.
Researchers Develop Hardware Encryption for New Computer Memory Technology
NCSU News (05/17/11) Matt Shipman
North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed encryption hardware that is compatible with nonvolatile main memory (NVMM) and can protect personal information and other data. NVMM technologies, such as phase-change memory, could replace dynamic random access memory as the main form of computer memory because it would enable computers to start instantly. NVMM also enables computers makers to fit more memory into the same amount of space used by existing technologies. However, until now NVMM has posed a security risk. The NCSU researchers developed a solution to the security issues by developing a hardware-based encryption system called i-NVMM. "We developed an algorithm to detect data that is likely not needed by the processor, [which] allows us to keep 78 percent of main memory encrypted during typical operation, and only slows the system's performance by 3.7 percent," says NCSU professor Yan Solihin. The system relies on a self-contained encryption engine that is built into a computer's memory module and does not require changes to the computer's processors.
Courant Institute Researchers Use Innovative Data Collection Method
New York University (05/17/11) James Devitt
New York University (NYU) researchers have developed a data collection method based on the theory of pose estimation. The method features algorithms that can recognize individuals or objects based on their positions, using a music video created by C-Mon & Kypski. The band's video served as a visual database for the researchers' work to develop computer vision technology. The music video is the result of the band's crowdsourcing project, which asked fans to replace one frame from the video with an imitation in front of a camera. The new contribution is then added to the video. "This turned out to be the perfect data source for developing an algorithm that learns to compute similarity based on pose," says NYU's Graham Taylor. "Armed with the band's data and a few machine learning tricks up our sleeves, we built a system that is highly effective at matching people in similar pose but under widely different settings."
The Next Computer: Your Genes
PhysOrg.com (05/16/11) Miranda Marquit
Nanyang Technical University researchers are developing a new form of computing, based on DNA strands, which could be used to solve complex problems. The researchers say that DNA-based computing could be useful for strategic assignment problems, massive parallel problems, combinatorial problems, and artificial intelligence-solving problems. Unlike silicon-based binary systems, DNA-based computing consists of A, G, C, and T, which gives the technology considerably greater range, says Nanyang professor Jian-Jun Shu. "DNA-based computing has the potential to deal with fuzzy data, going beyond digital data," Shu says. The researchers found that they could fuse strands together, cut them, and carry out other operations that would impact the DNA's computing ability. In this model, DNA molecules function as information storage tools that can be used for computational operations. "We can join strands together, creating an addition operation, or we can divide by making the DNA smaller by denaturization," Shu says. Among the challenges of DNA-based computing are minimizing the need for human manipulation and displaying the results.
A New Semantic Model Improves Mobile Telephone User Experience
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (05/16/11) Eduardo Martinez
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid researchers have developed the mIO! ontology network, which aims to improve the mobile phone user experience by enabling the terminal to be used as a source of contextual information concerning user tastes and preferences. The network includes local information on the user, environment, entertainment, and social information. The ontology network consists of a central ontology that connects a set of ontologies concerning the different components required to model the context, including device, environment, source, interface, location, service provider, network, role, service, time, units of measurement, and user. Coaxing users to interact, via their mobile devices, with ubiquitous services or services that they create and provide is the goal of the five central pillars the mIO! network is founded on. The five technologies that form the basis of the central pillars include technologies for services created and provided by individuals using their mobile phone, access interface technologies effecting mobile phone use directly or as an extension, environmental intelligence and user context information management technologies, technologies for mobility services produced and supplied by businesses, and inter-device communication and connectivity technologies.
Team Robot: Researchers Demonstrate Autonomous Vehicles With Advanced Collaborative Exploration and Mapping Capabilities
Georgia Tech News (05/15/11) Rick Robinson
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, and the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have developed robots that work independently and communicate only with each other to achieve a variety of tasks. The robots were developed as part of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory-sponsored Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) Collaborative Technology Alliance Program. MAST's goal is to develop technologies that will enable palm-sized autonomous robots to help humans handle civilian and military challenges in confined spaces. The MAST program consists of four major research teams, including integration, microelectronics, microsystems mechanics, and processing for autonomous operation. The novel part of the research is a graph-based technique, used by each robot, called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), which enables the autonomous vehicle to develop a map of known and unknown environments while monitoring and reporting on its own situation. SLAM is designed to work in areas where global positioning system service is blocked, such as inside buildings and in some combat zones, says Georgia Tech professor Henrik Christensen.
Software Could Aid Near-Earth Object Collision Response
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (05/13/11)
The Near Earth Object Mitigation Support System (NEOMiSS) could be used to evacuate a region before an asteroid or comet collides with the Earth. Developed by Southampton University's Charlotte Norlund, NEOMiSS is designed to combine models of the physical effects of a potential near-earth object impact with historical data of different natural hazards and local building strength. Human vulnerability in the form of an expected number of casualties is then measured. NEOMiSS uses behavior-based evacuation models, which simulate and measure the ability to evacuate the threatened area using statistical data and knowledge of transportation infrastructure. The program can provide an indication of the resilience of regions that may be at risk and can identify areas that may need further investment in transportation infrastructure to avoid congestion bottlenecks. "The philosophy that is applied within this new tool applies to all natural hazards where we have some advance warning, such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and ... asteroid impacts," says Southampton's Hugh Lewis.
Facebook Can Serve as Personality Test
ABC News (05/13/11) Eric Niller
Facebook pages can provide personality profiles for prospective employees, according to professor Jennifer Golbeck and colleagues at the University of Maryland, who surveyed the public profiles of nearly 300 Facebook users for information about their favorite activities, TV shows, movies, music, books, quotes, and membership in political or other organizations. They also examined the About Me and blurb sections, then had the users take a test that measured the big five personality traits of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Golbeck says you can get to within 10 percent of a person's personality score by studying Facebook. "Lots of organizations make their employees take personality tests," she says. "If you can guess someone's personality pretty well on the Web you don't need them to take the test." The study was funded in part by the Army Research Laboratory, which is interested in how teams of individuals get along to accomplish tasks on the battlefield. Golbeck's next project will be to compare Twitter posts for information on personality.
Is There a Special Formula for Successful STEM Schools?
Science Insider (05/12/11) Jeffrey Mervis
The National Academies' National Research Council recently held a workshop led by an expert panel to discuss successful science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in K-12 schools. The workshop found that a successful science and math school starts as a successful school overall, with skilled teachers who address the needs of all students in a resource-rich environment. Factors that get in the way of a school succeeding include budget cuts, poor teacher preparation and professional development, and a disregard for low-achieving students. The panel discussed different kinds of schools, including STEM-centric schools and schools that give disadvantaged students a better chance to graduate and attend college. A recent University of Virginia study found that students that graduated from specialty STEM schools were more likely to major in a STEM field in college. However, the study's author notes that more data is needed before conclusions about causality can be drawn.
Successful First Test Drive of "Sighted" Wheelchair
Lulea University of Technology (Sweden) (05/11/11) Katarina Karlsson
Lulea University of Technology researchers led by Lulea professor Kalevi Hyyppa have developed an electric wheelchair that can detect the surrounding environment and transmit the information to a visually impaired user. The wheelchair is equipped with a joystick for steering and a haptic robot that acts as a virtual white cane. A laser scanner produces a three-dimensional (3D) map, which is transferred to the haptic robot so that the visually impaired user can feel nearby obstacles. "This may be [an] important aid for the visually impaired who are wheelchair users," Hyyppa says. "Many have already been in touch with me and asked if they can come for a test drive." However, he says the wheelchair can be improved. The laser scanner can only see objects at a specific height, and the researchers are working to develop a 3D camera that can produce a full 3D measurement. The researchers estimate that they can produce a wheelchair ready for manufacturing in about five years.
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