Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 16, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Intel Code Lights Road to Many-Core Future
EE Times (09/15/11) Rick Merritt

Intel's release of open source code for a data-parallel version of Javascript seeks to help mainstream programmers who use scripting languages tap the power of multicore processors. Intel's Justin Rattner says in an interview that there will be multiple programming models, and Parallel JS encompasses one such model. The language enhances performance for data-intensive, browser-based apps such as photo and video editing and three-dimensional gaming running on Intel chips. Rattner describes Parallel JS as "a pretty important step that gets us beyond the prevailing view that once you are beyond a few cores, multicore chips are only for technical apps." A later iteration of Parallel JS also will exploit the graphics cores currently incorporated into Intel's latest processors. In addition, Intel is working on ways to enhance modern data-parallel tools that operate general-purpose programs on graphics processors, and those tools could be issued next year, Rattner says. He notes that beyond that, data-parallel methods require a more basic change to boost power efficiency by becoming more asynchronous.

AAU Announces Major Initiative to Improve Undergraduate STEM Education
Association of American Universities (09/14/11) Barry Toiv

The Association of American Universities (AAU) announced a five-year plan to enhance the quality of undergraduate instruction and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The association also announced the establishment of a technical advisory committee of experts in undergraduate teaching and learning. The panel's expertise will be tapped to develop an effective analytical framework for evaluating and improving the quality of STEM education, create a demonstration program at a number of member institutions to deploy the framework, and investigate mechanisms that universities and departments can use to train, identify, and reward faculty who want to improve STEM teaching quality. AAU also will seek to work with federal research agencies to devise mechanisms for recognizing, rewarding, and promoting initiatives to improve undergraduate learning, as well as ascertain the best way to assess and cultivate effective means for sharing information about promising and effective undergraduate STEM education programs, strategies, techniques, and pedagogies. AAU president Hunter R. Rawlings says the association will collaborate with member universities, experts in the field, and scientific disciplinary societies to find ways to encourage the use of education methods in the classroom by faculty members and departments.

NSF Seeking Proposals at the Interface of Computing, Economics
CCC Blog (09/15/11) Erwin Gianchandani

A joint solicitation for interdisciplinary research and education projects that develop new knowledge at the locus of computer science and economics and social sciences has been issued by the U.S. National Science Foundation's Directorates for Computer and Information Science and Engineering and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences. The solicitation expresses particular interest in algorithmic strategies and analyses for social science questions involving resource provision and allocation in noisy, distributed and/or unsynchronized environments, collective decision making, and related subjects. Also of special interest are mechanisms that employ concepts from social and economic science to augment the performance of computing systems and other systems comprised of multiple, self-interested agents. The request for proposal notes that "good incentive mechanisms are ... needed to mediate the interactions among infrastructure providers, service providers, and clients for computing and communication infrastructure and services. Mechanisms are also important in driving multi-agent software systems towards socially desirable goals."

Newly Published Cyber Security Report Identifies Key Research Priorities
Queen's University Belfast (09/13/11) Brian Arlow

The U.K. National Center for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) recently released a report as part of CSIT's Belfast 2011 Cyber Summit, identifying key research priorities for protecting the future Internet. The report highlighted developing self-learning, self-aware cybersecurity technologies, protecting smart utility grids, and enhancing the security of mobile networks as top research priorities needed to safeguard the future Internet. The four major themes of the report included the development of adaptive cybersecurity technologies, the protection of smart utility grids, the security of the mobile platform and applications, and continuing a multifaceted approach to cybersecurity research. "Our ambition is that this strategy will help to inform global cybersecurity research and act as a driver for cybersecurity roadmap definition over the coming year," says CSIT principal investigator John McCanny.

In-Car Algorithm Could Rapidly Dissolve Traffic Jams
Technology Review (09/15/11)

University of Seoul researchers Hyun Keun Lee and Beom Jun Kim have developed an algorithm that could automate and improve the process for dissolving traffic jams, and could be implemented relatively easily in the next generation of cars. Lee and Kim classify drivers who stay more than a safe distance away from the vehicle ahead as defensive, and those who leave too little room as optimistic. Then they use a cellular automaton to model traffic flow that reproduces most usual driving behaviors, such as speeding and accelerating or braking hard in response to road conditions. Lee and Kim also have all the vehicles in the model share their speed and position with their neighbors and filter this information downstream, which immediately makes vehicles aware of a traffic jam ahead. The algorithm would switch all downstream driving behavior to defensive, enabling vehicles to leave the standstill more quickly than they arrive. The approach would only require an on-board algorithm for most cars, and a little more automated on-board control than currently exists in vehicles. Additional modeling would help keep such vehicle control from causing any problematic driving behaviors.

Darwin's Robots: Survival of the Fittest Digital Brain
New Scientist (09/15/11) Lakshmi Sandhana

Cornell University researchers, as part of the HyperNEAT project, have developed digital brains using neural networks that mimic biological evolutionary processes. The brains receive sensory inputs from the body, which they use to evolve the proper neural patterns needed to control their body parts. The best performing brains were allowed to reproduce to create the next generation and the entire process was repeated until the researchers discovered a brain that could control the robot enough to walk around the lab. "From an observer's perspective, it looks like a robot that 'wakes up,' tries out a new gait, and then 'thinks about it' for a few seconds, before waking up again and trying a new gait," says Cornell's Jeffrey Clune. The researchers are now evolving simulated bodies and brains using Cornell's EndlessForms Web site. The team uses neural networks called compositional pattern-producing networks (CPPNs) to mimic how natural organisms develop. "If CPPNs are used to evolve robot bodies along with brains, he may be able to evolve robots with complex bodies as well as complex brains," says University of Vermont's Josh Bongard.

5 Tech Breakthroughs: Chip-Level Advances That May Change Computing
Computerworld (09/13/11) Brian Nadel

Chip-level advances, including new processors and circuits, could be the building blocks that lead to a new generation of products and devices. For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher Jurgen Michel wants to develop a microprocessor that uses flashing germanium lasers to transmit data instead of wires. MIT's researchers are using photons instead of electrons to make data transmission more efficient. Meanwhile, memristor technology could be a faster, more durable and less expensive alternative to flash memory. Hewlett-Packard is building memristors using alternating layers of titanium dioxide and platinum, built in a grid-like pattern. These resistive random access memory chips can store about twice as much data as flash chips but are more than 1,000 times faster than flash memory and could last for millions of rewrite cycles. Other technologies under development include Tabula's Spacetime technology and its ABAX chip design, which aims to trick the circuit into rearranging itself on demand so that it only appeared to other components to have several layers of active elements. Meanwhile, IBM researchers have developed experimental graphene-based transistors and integrated circuits using standard semiconductor manufacturing techniques, and Xerox's PARC researchers are developed a less expensive and easier method for making electronics by printing circuits on a plastic sheet.

SDSC-Developed Software Used in First Global Camera Trap Mammal Study
UCSD News (CA) (09/13/11) Jan Zverina

The first global camera trap study of mammals made use of a novel software system developed by researchers at the University of California, San Diego's San Diego Supercomputer Center. The study documented 105 species in nearly 52,000 images from seven protected areas across the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The collected data enabled scientists to conclude that habitat loss and smaller reserves have a direct and detrimental impact on the diversity and survival of mammal populations. The system incorporates software features and functions specifically designed for the broader camera-trapping community. The team gave the system the ability to run the application locally on a laptop or desktop computer without an Internet connection, and the ability to run on multiple operating systems. The software features a navigational user interface for managing images, and automatically extracts customized metadata information to increase standardization. The software system also uses embedded taxonomic lists, and exports data packages consisting of data, metadata, and images in standardized formats so that they can be transferred to online data warehouses for archiving and dissemination.

Tiny and Tinier: EU Projects Minimize Size of Semiconductor Chips
CORDIS News (09/13/11)

The European Union-funded NanoCMOS and PULLNANO projects are pushing the limits of chip miniaturization by attempting to make complementary metal-oxide semiconductor chips (CMOS) smaller than ever before. "By cramming more transistors into a chip you're delivering more capacity, more functionality, and more computing power for the same price," says STMicroelectronics' Gilles Thomas. Although the NanoCMOS project has successfully developed a 45 nanometer (nm) node semiconductor, and the PULLNANO is aiming to develop a 22 nm semiconductor, the researchers believe it is possible to shrink chips down to about 11 nm, according to Thomas. The current limit to computer processor performance is a quantum mechanical effect known as gate leakage, in which mobile charge carriers break through insulating regions within the chip. The PULLNANO researchers have solved this problem by developing a hafnium compound-based insulator to replace conventional silicone dioxide, which has led to a 100-fold reduction in gate leakage, according to Thomas.

MSU Researchers Break Ground in Fingerprint Technology
The State News (09/12/11) Stephen Brooks

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers led by professor Anil Jain have developed technology that can detect fingerprints that have been physical altered. Jain says the inspiration for the research, which began more than two years ago, came from the rising trend of criminals physically altering their fingerprints to avoid identification. "Because of the increasing use of fingerprints at [international borders], many individuals who have prior criminal records purposefully alter their fingerprints so that they don't get matched to their prior fingerprints in the databases," he says. The researchers recently received a grant from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's Biometric Center of Excellence to continue developing the technology. Although the technology currently only has the power to detect whether or not fingerprints have been altered, the researchers are developing software that will attempt to match an altered fingerprint with the original.

UA Looks at Lessening Internet Energy Usage
Arizona Daily Wildcat (09/12/11) Amer Taleb

University of Arizona professor Beichuan Zhang has demonstrated that intelligent management of Internet infrastructure can significantly reduce the energy consumption of computer networks. A paper written by his team on this technology won Zhang the Applied Networking Research Prize sponsored by the Internet Society. The group is attempting to span the chasm between theory and practice by collaborating with university researchers to support a more effective Internet in the near term, according to Zhang. He says that Internet service providers and data centers could reap millions of dollars in savings by deploying his green networks, while households could eventually avail themselves of the technology as well. "The idea that you should adapt your power consumption based on your workload can be applied to anyone," Zhang notes. "The challenge is applying it to a specific network environment."

Objective-C, C#, D Language: Winners in Programming Popularity
InfoWorld (09/12/11) Paul Krill

Objective-C rose to sixth place on the Tiobe Programming Community index of most popular programming languages in September. Used for developing Apple iOS applications, Objective-C ranked eighth a year ago. C# has risen two spots from last year to become the fourth most popular programming language. Meanwhile, D, which is considered a potential successor to C++, returned to the top 20 for the first time since the middle of 2009, coming in at 20th place. Although the F# language, a functional language for Microsoft's .Net platform, has fallen out of the Top 20 after making its first-ever entrance at 20th place in August, it is expected to make a quick return because it represents a new generation of functional languages. Java remains first on the list, followed by C, C++, C#, and PHP, which has fallen from the fourth place spot. Objective-C, Visual Basic, Python, Perl, and JavaScript round out the top 10. Ruby, Delphi/Object Pascal, Lua, Lisp, Transact-SQL, Pascal, PL-SQL, Ada, RPG (OS/400), and D complete the top 20 ranking this month.

URSI Project Pushes Bounds of Artificial Intelligence
Miscellany News (09/07/11) Ruth Bolster

Vassar College professor Ken Livingston works at Vassar's Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) to study ways of creating human-like intelligence. "We are trying to replicate some of the features of primate cortex to see whether we can solve a certain set of problems in learning and intelligence," Livingston says. The URSI project aims to use the understanding of how the human brain processes complex tasks and reproduce it in machines. "Ultimately we want to get to the point where we can turn the robot loose in the world without having to program it," Livingston says. The URSI project presents a robot with a series of simple perceptual patterns, after which the robot makes predictions based on the information. The team also experimented with obstructing the robot's visual and audio input, making it more difficult to recognize the patterns. The researchers found that they could obstruct almost half of the robot's visual field and it would still be able to recognize an object. Livingston hopes the research could lead to a robot that can learn to do complex tasks, such as cleaning a home.

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