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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Zhejiang University Students Seize "World's Smartest" Trophy at the "Battle of the Brains"
Zhejiang University students were recently named World Champions of the 2011 ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), also known as Battle of the Brains, in which 105 university teams compete to solve some of the most challenging computer programming problems. The Zhejiang team successfully solved eight problems in five hours. "Although many of these students will become software experts and technology leaders in the future, we want to help them understand business issues and real world problems that they are going to face when their generation will take over the responsibilities," says Michael Karasick of IBM, which sponsored the contest. In addition to the contest, participants interacted with IBM executives, fellow students, and technologies from around the globe. "The ICPC is not just an international computer contest; it's a meeting place for some of the smartest brains in the world to come together and harness their talents in an effort to make life better for people everywhere," says ICPC's Bill Poucher. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Tsinghua University, St. Petersburg University, and Nizhny Novgorod State University finished the competition in second, third, fourth, and fifth places, respectively.
Pentagon to Consider Cyberattacks Acts of War
New York Times (05/31/11) David E. Sanger; Elisabeth Bumiller
The U.S. Pentagon plans to release a new cybersecurity strategy that considers a computer attack from a foreign country an act of war that could result in a military response. The Pentagon plan specifies that any computer attack that threatens widespread civilian casualties, such as cutting power supplies or targeting hospitals and emergency-responder networks, could be viewed as an act of aggression and is equivalent to a more traditional act of war. However, officials acknowledge that the policy does not clearly state how the United States might respond to a cyberattack, and it does not establish a threshold for what level of cyberattack warrants a military response. The plan, under discussion for several years, is modeled after the effort in the 1950s to develop plans for deterring nuclear attacks. Experts say that determining the origin of an attack is a key sticking point. Unlike in a nuclear attack, cyberattack origins often are unclear. "One of the questions we have to ask is, how do we know we're at war?" says a former Pentagon official. "How do we know when it's a hacker and when it's the People's Liberation Army?" Some White House officials have argued that a military response to a cyberattack would be a last resort, and that threatening a country's economic well-being or its reputation would likely be earlier courses of action.
Code Green: Energy-Efficient Programming to Curb Computers' Power Use
UW News (05/31/11) Hannah Hickey
University of Washington researchers have developed EnerJ, a program that could reduce energy consumption by up to 50 percent in computing systems. "With our system, mobile phone users would notice either a smaller phone, or a longer battery life, or both," says Washington professor Luis Ceze. "Computing centers would notice a lower energy bill." EnerJ takes advantage of processes that can survive small errors in the code, such as streaming online audio and video files, games, and real-time image recognition programs. The UW system creates two interlocking pieces of code, one of which is a specific part, while the other is for all the processes that could survive infrequent mistakes. EnerJ's software creates an impenetrable barrier between the two pieces. Researchers could use the system with a new type of hardware with some transistors having a lower voltage. The researchers ran simulations on such hardware and found that EnerJ could cut energy consumption by up to 25 percent, but the researchers estimate that savings could reach 50 percent with improvements to the system.
Web Interface Defines New Paradigm for Life Science Data Sharing
Riken (05/31/11) Tetsuro Toyoda
Google Uses New Tool to Track Dengue Fever Hubs
BBC News (05/31/11)
Google is developing an early warning system for dengue fever outbreaks by monitoring dengue fever-related search terms by users in at-risk countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Singapore. "Using the dengue case count data provided by the Ministries of Health and the World Health Organization, we're able to build a model that offers near real-time estimates of dengue activity based on the popularity of certain search terms," says Google's Vikram Sahai. Google is working with researchers at Boston's Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School on the dengue fever project. The project utilizes Google Correlate, a new service that connects search analysis with data collected in real life. Google Correlate enables researchers to upload their own data sets to compare against Google searches. "It will of course be highly selective because you'll be picking out the people who are using Google, but of course year on year that's an increasing proportion of the population anyway," says Imperial College London professor Peter Sever.
String Theory: Violinist Taps Artificial Intelligence to Interact With Her Unique Sound
Scientific American (05/31/11) Larry Greenmeier
Violinist Mark Kimura is working with the Paris Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique's (IRCAM's) Real-Time Musical Interactions Team to develop computer-instrument systems. At a recent performance, Kimura wore white fingerless gloves equipped with wireless sensors and plugged her violin into a computer onstage. The module functions as an electronic controller for real-time digital sound processes, such as sound transformation and sound synthesis, says IRCAM's Frederic Bevilacqua. "We specifically worked on a gesture recognition and synchronization system that is able to distinguish standard bowing styles, such as detache or martele, or to recognize a bow pattern specifically chosen by the musician," Bevilacqua says. At another performance, Kimura worked with cellist Dave Eggar while both musicians wore the sensor-equipped gloves. As both musicians played, the software was able to use the data to modify the sounds made by the two instruments throughout the performance. The musicians were using Omax, IRCAM-designed artificial intelligence software that can learn in real time the typical features of a musician's style and then use that information to alter the musical output.
Finding an Edge
MIT News (05/31/11) Larry Hardesty
A core challenge in computer vision is identifying the boundaries of objects, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers Jason Chang and John Fisher have developed an algorithm that can determine object boundaries in digital images with at least 50,000 times greater efficiency than its predecessors. "We want an algorithm that's able to segment images like humans do," Chang says. "But because humans segment images differently, we shouldn't come up with one segmentation. We should come up with a lot of different segmentations that kind of represent what humans would also segment." The algorithm produces its set of candidate segmentations by striking different balances between a pair of segmentation quality measures, one of which is the difference between the parts of the image on opposite sides of each boundary. The other quality measure is segmentation simplicity, and the algorithm assigns each segmentation a score based on these two measures. The program is designed to identify candidates with very high total scores to ensure that none of the candidates will be inordinately poor. Georgia Institute of Technology professor Anthony Yezzi thinks the same method could be applied to object-tracking and pattern-matching challenges.
FRAVE: Flexible Virtual Reality System
Technische Universitaet Muenchen (05/31/11)
Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) researchers have developed the Flexible Reconfigurable Cave (FRAVE), a three-dimensional (3D), immersive virtual reality system. The researchers say that FRAVE offers several advantages over the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE), including more flexibility, modular features, lower costs, and a smaller footprint. FRAVE consists of 10 plasma screens that can be arranged in different ways, such as creating an immersive three-sided environment with a tracking system that automatically adapts the displayed images to the movement of the side sections. The system is less costly than CAVE because it uses end-user devices, which the researchers say could promote more widespread use of virtual reality systems. The TUM researchers will use FRAVE to view simulation data, such as the landscape of Saudi Arabia, images above and below the earth's surface, and the CO2 separation and storage processes used to optimize crude oil extraction. "An engineer wants to enter the 3D world to be able to envisage the interior design of a vehicle," says TUM's Marcus Tonnis. "A researcher wants to visualize his or her measurement or simulation data, while a manager uses it as a presentation space."
OpenStudy to Forge Partnership With NPTEL
The Hindu (India) (05/30/11) T. Ramachandran
OpenStudy, a Web-based platform that seeks to become a kind of Facebook for learning, has partnered with the National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL). OpenStudy brings together people who have questions with those who may have answers. Learners, including those who are not part of a formal education system, can access OpenStudy directly or through Facebook, join groups of their choice, and pose questions as well as provide answers to the inquiries of other users. Following the Wiki principle, answers are crowdsourced, meaning the next user can correct wrong answers, which are also rated by users in the form of a Good Answer rating. The Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science have implemented NPTEL, with the support of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, to offer a range of Web and video courses in engineering, science, humanities, and social sciences. "We are waiting to have a technical discussion to take the next step of integration," says OpenStudy co-founder Preetha Ram. The U.S. National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Georgia Research Alliance have provided funding for OpenStudy.
PRACE Offers Access to Europe's Fastest Supercomputers
The PRACE Research Infrastructure is making three Tier-0 supercomputers at the highest performance level and 17 national Tier-1 systems available to European researchers in academia and industry. The Tier-0 systems will include HERMIT, a Cray XE6 system that will be installed next fall at the University Stuttgart's High Performance Center. HERMIT will have an initial peak performance of 1 petaflop/s and then a 4-5 petaflop/s second installation step in 2013. Researchers will have access to the 1 petaflop/s IBM BlueGene/P system JUGENE, hosted by the Julich Supercomputing Center, and the Bull Bullx cluster CURIE at Bruyeres-Le-Chatel, which will reach a peak performance of more than 1.6 petaflop/s in its second installation phase in October. "PRACE is proving to be the European supercomputer infrastructure," says European Union commissioner Neelie Kroes. "PRACE is a key driver for the development of European science and technology and provides vital support to researchers addressing the major challenges of our time like climate change, energy saving, and the aging population."
Digital Ants Protect Computer Networks
Wake Forest University (05/27/11) Kerry M. King
Wake Forest University researchers are developing digital ants to help improve the U.S. power grid's computer security. The researchers say the digital ants system could help protect any device connected to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks, which control sewer management systems, mass-transit systems, and manufacturing systems. The technology was developed with the help of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers. "A cyberattack can have a real physical result of shutting off power to a city or a nuclear power plant," says Wake Forest professor Errin Fulp. He says the digital ants technology could help protect SCADA networks because it quickly adapts to changing threats. The technology involves digital ants moving through computer networks looking for threats. When an ant detects a threat, it calls for more ants to go to that location, which draws the attention of human cybersecurity experts. Although the technology is still in the testing phase, Wake Forest professor Ken Berenhaut is using modeling techniques to determine what will happen as the ants move throughout the smart grid.
Five New Hot Spots Where Medicine and Technology Will Converge
New Jersey Institute of Technology (05/26/11) Sheryl Weinstein
New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) professor Atam Dhawan points to five emerging bioengineering areas that will benefit from the future convergence of medicine and technology. Point-of-care health-care technologies will enable medicine to be delivered in individual situations ranging from health monitoring to telemedicine, Dhawan says. "The U.S. will need to find a way to link to better efforts in Europe and the Far East," he notes. Optical imaging technologies will be in greater use for the diagnosing and staging of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other fibrotic diseases. Technological advances in bioelectronics, bio-nano-sensor technology, and neural engineering could lead to new techniques in neuroscience. Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine also are gaining popularity. Moreover, medical and bio-robots are becoming an important part of health care. "These robots will develop novel, nano micro and macro devices to assist in diagnosis, surgery, prosthetics, rehabilitation, and personal assistance," Dhawan predicts.
Biomedical Engineering: In Tune With the Brain
A*STAR Research (05/25/11) Lee Swee Heng
An algorithm that significantly improves the accuracy of common spatial pattern (CSP) for classifying electroencephalography (EEG) signals has been developed by researchers at the A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research. Haiping Lu and colleagues have regularized the estimation of EEG signal variation by incorporating a parameter that lowers the variation of the estimates and another that reduces the tendency of the CSP algorithm to bias the estimates toward values from only a small number of samples. They also have aggregated several regularizations to optimize the algorithm even further. The algorithm significantly outperformed four others in three sets of experiments with varying testing scenarios in the third Brain-Computer Interface Competition, held in 2005, and was particularly superior when the number of sample EEG signals was small. The effort required to collect data for brain-computer interfaces, the memory requirements for EEG signal-processing applications, and the processing time needed for processing the signals are significantly reduced. "Our algorithm applies ensemble-based learning in the feature-extraction stage of an EEG-based brain-computer interface, which could be integrated with training data ensembles in the data pre-processing stage," Lu says.
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