Welcome to the January 4, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
So, What's Your Algorithm?
Wall Street Journal (01/04/12) Dennis K. Berman
The beginning of a transformation in day-to-day business decisions informed by real-time analytics mined from immense databases is in store for this year, as computers become sufficiently powerful and nuanced to help reduce human bias from the decision-making process. Such systems are now capable of crunching billions of bits of data, analyzing them through self-learning algorithms, and packaging the insights for instant usage. "We've just got to the point where the technology really starts to work," says Autonomy CEO Michael Lynch. One example of the benefits of such systems is offered by Mu Sigma founder Dhiraj C. Rajaram, who says that a drug saleswoman will soon have real-time analytics that suggest she concentrate on doctors who spent time on social networks that morning, and are therefore more likely to influence colleagues. However, he cautions that as analytics become routine, adaptation and business cycles will be ramped up even faster than they currently are. "As computers become better and better, our lives are becoming more and more complex," Rajaram notes. "They create new problems as much as they solve old ones."
A Quantum Leap in Computing
University of Southern California (01/03/12) Ambrosia Viramontes-Brody
The University of Southern California (USC) recently founded the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center, which houses the D-Wave One system. "We have been strong in quantum computing for years but this development really is a 'quantum leap' for us," says USC professor Daniel Lidar. He says the D-Wave One system can solve problems such as machine learning automatic image recognition and software validation. Fifteen USC researchers in USC's Center for Quantum Information and Science and Technology are working to better understand the questions that remain about quantum systems. Researchers will utilize the D-Wave system to develop methods to construct new quantum optimization algorithms, study the fundamental physics of entanglement, and lead experiments in adiabatic quantum computing. The researchers also will focus on managing decoherence, which can be a major problem for quantum systems. "It turns out this quantum weirdness is the extra ingredient that gives us computational speedups, compared to classical algorithms that are very fragile," says USC's Paolo Zanardi. Meanwhile, the development of optimization algorithms can help detect bugs in computer programs. "This technology is going to be a great testing ground for our theories and will enable us to develop our theories in new directions," Zanardi says.
Govt Working on Defensive Cyberweapon
Daily Yomiuri (Japan) (01/03/12)
Researchers at Japan's Defense Ministry are developing a computer virus that can track, identify, and disable sources of cyberattacks. Since the launch of the virtual cyberweapon three-year project in 2008, it has been tested in a closed network environment. The Defense Ministry's Technical Research and Development Institute recently outsourced the project to Fujitsu, which is developing the virus as well as a system to monitor and analyze cyberattacks. One of the most promising features of the virus is its ability to trace cyberattack sources, as it can identify the immediate source of attack and the computers used to transmit the virus. The researchers say the program can identify the source of a cyberattack to a high degree of accuracy for distributed denial-of-service attacks, as well as some attacks aimed at stealing information stored in target computers. Although the Defense Ministry says the program was developed strictly for defensive uses, analysts say using the cyberweapon could violate Japanese law that bans virus production. However, Keio University professor Motohiro Tsuchiya says the weapon's legal definition should be reconsidered because other countries have launched similar projects.
Hackers Plan Space Satellites to Combat Censorship
BBC News (12/30/11) David Meyer
An organization of computer hackers is planning to launch its own communication satellites and bypass satellites controlled by governmental bodies and used to censor certain aspects of the Internet. The organizers also are developing a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites as part of a larger project known as the Hackerspace Global Grid. Used together in a global network, these stations would be able to pinpoint satellites at any given time, while also making it easier and more reliable for satellites to send data back to earth. "The first goal is an uncensorable Internet in space," says Nick Farr, who is involved with the Hackerspace project. The project's supporters cite the United States' proposed Stop Online Piracy Act as an example of the kind of threat facing online freedom. A long-term goal of the Hackerspace project is to put an astronaut on the moon within the next 23 years. The hackers hope to have three prototype ground stations in place within the next six months, says Armin Bauer, who is working on the Hackerspace project. The organization also is developing electronics that can survive in space and vehicles that can get them there.
Your Connected Vehicle Is Arriving
Technology Review (01/03/12) Thilo Koslowski
The networking of vehicles to the Internet and each other over the next decade will spark new technological and societal trends in which automobiles of the future offer experiences that transcend driving, writes Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski. He cites expected benefits such as lower accident rates, higher productivity, reduced emissions, on-demand entertainment for passengers, and in-vehicle health monitoring. Koslowski says carmakers need to offer in-vehicle access to Web data so that they can maintain their relevance, and he argues that "the automotive industry must capture consumers' interest in digital lifestyle offerings and adapt the relevant technologies to the car." Koslowski says the one technology that offers the greatest possibility of meeting various transportation challenges presented by the global population explosion as well as the growth of the aged populace is the self-driving vehicle. He also projects that the goals of zero accidents and real-time traffic management will come closer to realization over the next 10 years due to the continued development of sensors, computing power, machine learning, and big-data analytics. Koslowski also foresees the self-organization of cars that know their own location and that of other vehicles, enabling traffic flow optimization, pollution reduction, less congestion, and higher overall mobility.
10 Programming Languages That Could Shake Up IT
InfoWorld (01/03/12) Neil McAllister
Watering the Flops
IBM recently presented two new versions of its BlueGene/Q supercomputer, which are being built at the Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The two supercomputers should achieve 10 and 20 petaflops, respectively, and are expected to be operational in 2012. They also will be two of the most energy-efficient devices ever created, producing a record two billion floating-point operations per second for each watt consumed, according to Argonne's Pete Beckman. IBM's system consists of several rack cabinets, with each cabinet holding several shelves. The system uses both air and water to cool the chips as they heat up during use. Flattened copper plumbing that comes in direct contact with the chips is used to pass the water as close to the chips as possible. Supplied air is used for about 10 percent of the cooling, and the machines' designers have been able to increase the acceptable range for water and ambient air temperature, which will save about $2.5 million a year in cooling costs. Although water cooling is expected to remain a niche solution, the design is an example of how supercomputing researchers are often the first to solve problems that affect other computer hardware, Beckman says.
Simulating Firefighting Operations on a PC
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology have developed FireSim, a modular simulation kit that offers information and communication technologies specifically designed for firefighters. The tools enable emergency services departments to test technologies in a realistic environment while they are still in the development phase, allowing them to tailor the devices for specific needs. FireSim consists of four simulation modules. The first is a role-playing board game that emergency workers can use to simulate operations. The second module is a computer game, in which firefighters navigate an emergency from a first-person perspective. "These simulations allow us to make rapid changes to prototypes and put them to the test in complex deployment scenarios," says Fraunhofer researcher Markus Valle-Klann. The third simulation module blends the virtual and the real, with emergency crews playing out a scenario in a real environment. Vale-Klann says the final module involves creating behavioral models and feeding them into a computer, which calculates how a major emergency operation will play out, taking these behavioral models into account.
Military Academies Look to Fill Nation's Cybersecurity Gaps
National Defense (01/12) Eric Beidel
U.S. military academies have been developing potential cyberwarriors for years, but the difficulty is in finding places for them to use their cyberskills. West Point has a senior cybersecurity capstone course taken annually by about 30 information technology (IT), computer science, and electrical engineering majors. Most of the graduates go into tactical signal work and only find positions at the U.S. Cyber Command or the National Security Agency later in their careers. West Point's Special Interest Group on Security, Audit, and Control club aims to "develop information security professionals from within the Cadet Corps by hosting a variety of competitions, speakers, and challenges," according to the club's Web site. The Naval Academy has created a Center for Cyber Security Studies and instituted mandatory network defense courses to prepare new recruits for Internet warfare. By establishing the new core curriculum and cybersecurity center, the Naval Academy aims to double the number of computer science and IT majors at the school. Last summer, the Air Force Academy began offering eight days of hands-on cybersecurity training, with more than 80 cadets graduating from the first year of the Basic Cyber course. Officials expect more than 180 to attend next summer, says Col. David Gibson.
Explaining Why Computing Is Important
CCC Blog (12/30/11) Erwin Gianchandani
IBM fellow Grady Booch recently launched a transmedia project aimed at telling the story of how computing has changed humanity. The goal is to "teach the essential science of computing, present the stories of the people, events, and inventions of computing, examine the strong connections among computing, science, and society, [and] contemplate the future," Booch says. The project's Web site says that exploring computing is the 21st century equivalent of Cousteau exploring the sea, of Hughes exploring modern art, and of Burns exploring the American experience through the Civil War, baseball, and jazz. The project will become a multi-part documentary series that will be broadcast via traditional media as well as Web streaming. It also will be available for iPad in an interactive format, as an e-book for the Kindle or smartphone, as a social network and Web site, as a series of educational games for kids and teens, and as a platform for getting more women and minorities interested in computing and information technology.
Cotton Computing Goes Live at Cornell Textiles Lab
PhysOrg.com (12/30/11) Nancy Owano
Cornell University's Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory is developing wearable computing technology by creating transistors made from cotton fibers. Although researchers in the field often attach sensors or processors to fully formed garments, the Cornell lab is incorporating its information-retrieving devices directly into the fabric. The team made the fibers conductive by coating each strand with gold nanoparticles and with an additional thin layer of poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene), a conductive polymer. The fibers were about 1,000 times as conductive as plain cotton, and had slightly stiffer but more elastic qualities than untreated fibers. The lab made a simple circuit to demonstrate the cotton's conductivity, with the team knotting one end to a battery and the other to a light-emitting diode. The researchers say their technology could lead to clothes that measure pollutants, firefighter uniforms that detect dangerous chemicals, T-shirts that display information, medical purposed garments that monitor heart rates and perspiration, and carpets in commercial environments that measure allergens or humidity.
Up in a Cloud for Processing Computer Data
Jerusalem Post (01/01/12) Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are developing techniques for working with online data while it is still encrypted, resulting in an encrypted solution that can later be securely deciphered. "Until a few years ago, no one knew if the encryption needed for this sort of online security was even possible," says Weizmann's Zvika Brakerski, who has developed several methods for making fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) more efficient. Brakerski, in collaboration with MIT's Vinod Vaikuntanathan, were able to make FHE work with much simpler arithmetic, which accelerates processing time. The researchers also found that a mathematical construct used to create the encryption keys could be simplified without compromising security. "The fact that it worked was something like magic, and it has challenged our assumptions about the function of the ideal lattices in homomorphic encryption," Brakerski says.
Rover Thinks for Itself on Mars
La Canada Valley Sun (CA) (12/28/11) Sara Cardine
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) software, which allows the Mars rover Opportunity to perform autonomous data collection and research on the Martian surface, was named NASA's Software of the Year for 2011. Part of the AEGIS software is the Rockster algorithm, a front-end visual processing algorithm that helps the rover identify the boundary contours of rocks, converting 1 million pixels into an image that can be read on Earth. "Subsequent components of the AEGIS software calculate features of the detected rock regions and rank the regions according to the preferences expressed by the mission science team," says NASA's Michael Burl. AEGIS provides a set of attributes for the rover to look for in rocks and other surface features. "When it runs, it will search for things on outcroppings or something of interest [and] it will make a sort of a qualitative judgment based on those criteria," says NASA's Ben Bornstein. The researchers hope that some version of the AEGIS software will be used on the latest Mars rover, Curiosity.
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