Welcome to the August 1, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
10-Year-Old Problem in Theoretical Computer Science Falls
MIT News (07/31/12) Larry Hardesty
Researchers demonstrated two decades ago that if a questioner in an interactive proof can query multiple omniscient respondents who cannot communicate with each other, it can extract information with greater efficiency than it could from one respondent. The question of whether multiprover systems would still function if respondents were able to execute measurements on entangled physical particles has been answered positively by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Thomas Vidick and NEC Labs' Tsuyoshi Ito. They developed a new framework to analyze a multiprover proof designed to thwart cheating by concealing the questioner's intent, and which is resistant to quantum entanglement. Vidick and Ito's analytical framework verified the existence of mutliprover interactive proofs that are resilient against entangled respondents, which is a positive finding for cryptographers. On the other hand, it is less than welcome news for quantum physicists, as it illustrates that devising experiments to show the differences between classical and quantum physical systems is no simple task. "This is a step toward deepening our understanding of the notion of entanglement, and of things that happen in quantum systems--correlations in quantum systems, and efficient descriptions of quantum systems, et cetera," says Hebrew University professor Dorit Aharonov.
Adding a '3D Print' Button to Animation Software
Harvard University (07/31/12) Caroline Perry
Harvard University researchers have developed software that converts animated characters into fully articulated action figures using a three-dimensional (3D) printer. The researchers demonstrated the program using characters from Spore, an evolution-simulation video game that allows users to create a wide range of creatures with any number of limbs, eyes, and body segments. The software identifies the ideal locations of an action figure's joints based on the character's virtual articulation behavior. The program then optimizes the size and location of the joints for the physical world. The software relies on a series of optimization techniques to create the best possible model, utilizing hinges and ball-and-socket joints. The program also simulates the model's skin texture, determining how light reflects off the surface. "With an animation, you always have to view it on a two-dimensional screen, but this allows you to just print it and take an actual look at it in 3D," says Harvard Ph.D. student Moritz Bacher. "If you print one of these articulated figures, you can experiment with different stances and movements in a natural way, as with an artist’s mannequin." The project will be presented at the ACM SIGGRAPH conference on August 7.
Programmers Sought for Tropical Hackathon
BBC News (07/29/12) Mark Ward
Organizers of the Come Hack With Us hackathon are seeking 12 programmers to live on a remote tropical island and write code for two months. Applicants must submit a proposal explaining what they will work on during the hackathon, and complete a psychological examination to ensure they can live harmoniously with other hackers for two months. "I lived with a few people in Alaska working on a project and that was an amazing experience," says hackathon organizer Walter Heck. "Why can we not recreate that experience in a tropical and remote location so we can really focus on our projects?" Heck says the hackers' proposals will be matched to the skills of those attending to ensure good progress was made on all of them. More than 4,000 people showed an interest within hours of the call being published online. "If you look at some of the bigger companies of the last few years like Facebook, they just came out of one idea and they've changed the way we live and work," notes Computer People's Niall Cook. The organizers hope that the isolation of the hackathon will boost the creativity of the participants.
A New High Performance and Fault-Tolerant Datacenter Network for Modular Datacenters Was Proposed
Science Codex (07/29/12)
Scientists from China's National University of Defense Technology propose a hybrid intra-container network for a modular data center (MDC) called SCautz, along with an attendant suite of routing protocols. They say SCautz delivers high network throughput for diverse traffic patterns and supports graceful performance degradation in the presence of mounting server and switch faults. Advantages of SCautz’s hybrid architecture include its ability to operate in different modes with switches on or off. The data center structure also can enhance performance by a factor of two via the use of switches, enabling it to accommodate bursts of network flows without compromising the quality of bandwidth-heavy applications. SCautz's use of redundant switches augments the fault tolerance of a modular data center network, allowing it in instances of server failure to locate a peer server in the same cluster to circumvent the failed one. This maintains throughput for one-to-x traffic and roughly halves aggregate bottleneck throughput loss to make performance degradation much slower than the MDC's computation of storage capacity. The researchers note that SCautz's redundant design also offers a very low additional expense.
Upgrading the Internet for the Mobile age
Princeton University (07/31/12) John Sullivan
Princeton University researchers have developed Serval, a system that makes small changes to the way programs download and manage data, which they say could greatly impact the future growth of the Internet. "Serval is something that will make things easier to build and easier to manage without relying on these hacks," says Princeton professor Michael Freedman. Serval fixes problems by changing the role of the Internet Protocol (IP) address, adding another layer of information, known as the service access layer, to certain packets contained in the data stream. The service access layer identifies a service such as Google or Facebook, so if the IP address changes, the program does not stop working because it still receives functional information from the service access layer. The researchers say the system also enables mobile devices to switch between a Wi-Fi stream and a cellular one, even allowing both services simultaneously. "The Internet is increasingly a platform for connecting mobile users with the cloud and the Internet was not designed to do that," says Princeton professor Jennifer Rexford. The researchers also note that Serval can be deployed incrementally and does not require massive changes to current networks.
AI Predicts When You're About to Get Sick
New Scientist (07/26/12) Michael Reilly
University of Rochester's Adam Sadilek and colleagues were able to predict when individuals in New York City were about to come down with the flu up to eight days before they showed symptoms, using artificial intelligence and Twitter data. The team analyzed 4.4 million tweets tagged with global positioning system location data from more than 630,000 users in the New York City area over one month in 2010. The researchers trained a machine-learning algorithm to distinguish between tweets such as "I'm so sick of this traffic!" and those by people who were actually sick and showing signs of the flu. They were able to predict when someone was about to fall ill--and then tweet about it--with about 90 percent accuracy up to eight days in the future. Still, Sadilek says the system is limited because people do not reliably tweet about their symptoms and because getting sick is not limited to who they come in contact with. Nonetheless, the data from the system could potentially be used for a smartphone app that warns users when they are entering a public place with a high incidence of flu.
Why Siri Is Still the Future
Scientific American (07/30/12) David Pogue
Although Apple's Siri entered the technology industry with high expectations from both consumers and analysts, the automated voice recognition and personal assistant has been disappointing. Consumers do not understand the difference between Siri, the virtual assistant, and Siri, the speech-recognition engine, and these two functions have two different track records for success. Users became frustrated with the inconsistent voice recognition technology because they did not realize that it requires a strong Internet signal in order to function. In addition, irregular background noise, wind, and the variable distance from mouth to microphone make it difficult to perfect automated transcription. Desktop dictation software outperforms cellular Internet dictation software because it lacks such barriers, and unlike the phone, users can train the software to identify only their voice. Despite these limitations, the Siri virtual assistant boasts solid performance. Although free-form cellular dictation is not quite ready for widespread adoption, Siri can still be used as an effective interface for controlling electronics, and in the near future the voice recognition technology will catch up to its promise.
Computers Can Predict Effects of HIV Policies
Brown University (07/27/12) David Orenstein
Brown University researchers have developed software that can model the spread of HIV in New York City over several years to make specific predictions about the future of the epidemic under different intervention plans. "What we’re trying to do is identify the ideal combination of interventions to reduce HIV most dramatically in injection drug users," says Brown University professor Brandon Marshall. The program projects that with no change in New York City's current HIV programs, the infection rate among injection drug users will be 2.1 percent per 1,000 by 2040. However, strategies such as expanding HIV testing, increasing drug treatment, and providing earlier delivery of antiretroviral therapy could cut the rate by more than 60 percent, to 0.8 per 1,000. The model creates a virtual reality of 150,000 agents who engage in drug use and sexual activity like real people. "With this model you can really look at the microconnections between people," Marshall says. The researchers calibrated the program until it reproduced the infection rates among injection drug users that were known to occur in New York City between 1992 and 2002.
Can Creativity Be Automated?
Technology Review (07/27/12) Christopher Steiner
Complex algorithms are being incorporated into programs and used in some creative fields to demonstrate that, in certain cases, human creativity can be replaced by technology. For example, the Music X-Ray program uses a Fourier transforms algorithm, which identifies what songs will become hits by separating a signal from the noise of complex data to isolate a song's base melody, beat, tempo, rhythm, octave, pitch, chords, progression, sonic brilliance, and other variables. The software then builds a three-dimensional model of the song based on these properties and compares it with past hits. Displaying a just-analyzed song on the screen with past top tracks illustrates a kind of cloud structure containing dots that represent songs. Meanwhile Northwestern University professors have launched a company based on a set of algorithms that analyze sports box scores. The program uses the box score to generate a grammatically correct sports report. In addition, University of California, Santa Cruz professor David Cope has developed an algorithm that decides the musical patterns, the criteria, and the path it takes to write a song.
Inside the Quest to Put the World's Libraries Online
The Atlantic (07/12) Esther Yi
Making a vast, open, distributed network of books, records, and images available to anyone with an Internet link is the goal of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) through the establishment of a platform to bundle millions of materials into one user-friendly interface. DPLA seeks to tackle the problem of massive scale needed for digitization by calibrating its network for growth and supplying a mechanism to guarantee the coordinated and standardized facilitation of future expansions and assimilations. Rather than generating all raw material, DPLA's main task will be the support, management, and organization of that material, according to DPLA chairman John Palfrey. A DPLA prototype will be rolled out next April, and much of the initiative's traction stems from how it can rethink points of perceived failure within the Google Books project. Internet Archive founder and DPLA steering committee member Brewster Kahle is worried the project might diverge from its intended distributive model to a more narrow and closed model through excessive centralization. "The idea is not to build a single library, but to get the library system to go digital," he says.
Honeybot Project Helps Researchers Wipeout Facebook and Twitter Botnets
V3.co.uk (07/26/12) Gareth Morgan
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Washington have developed Sodexo, an automated "honeybot" system that protects against social botnets. To infiltrate a social botnet, Sodexo creates fake accounts and farms out a series of friend requests until it achieves a critical mass. When Sodexo finds a link connected to unblocked malware, it can follow the link and become a part of the social botnet. The honeypot then goes into exploitation mode, obtaining as much information as possible about the workings of the botnet. Sodexo uses a combination of data-mining and machine-learning techniques to infer the structure of the botnet and identify command and control channels. Sodexo also can help spot spam and malware signatures to enhance the effectiveness of intrusion-detection systems and spam filters as well as notify users. "Deploying deception through honeybots significantly reduces the botnet population, even when the number of honeybots is small relative to the population size," the researchers say.
New Data Visualization Tool Helps Find the 'Unknown Unknowns'
Georgia Tech News (07/25/12) Rick Robinson
Georgia Tech researchers have developed a subset of the Test Matrix Tool (TMT) that enables users to perform in-depth analysis of modeling and simulation data and then visualize the results on screen. The subset is a multi-component system developed for designing, executing, and analyzing large-scale modeling and simulation data sets. "Data visualization supports data analysis by letting users pose data-related questions onscreen with ease and then view the answers in ways that go far beyond ordinary table formats," says Georgia Tech's Edward Clarkson. TMT users can specify desired variations in input parameters using multiple data filters, execute all possible combinations of those parameters, and create a test matrix. Clarkson says some TMT capabilities, such as the data analysis and visualization components, could be useful for scrutinizing information gathered in many disciplines. "Our data tools could be used to investigate existing patient information and seek significant trends in the data," he notes. Clarkson says the TMT data visualization tool is similar to the data-filtering features found on some Web sites, but is far more advanced, since it enables fundamental manipulation of the data.
Human Energy to Power Portable Electronics
University of Auckland (New Zealand) (07/23/12)
Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) researchers have developed technology that converts human movement into battery power, which could enable users to charge their electronics while they walk. The artificial muscle generator technology can scavenge latent energy from human motion to directly power devices and provide energy where it is needed. "Our artificial muscle generators, because of their circuitry, are lightweight, inexpensive, and compact, so in the future they could easily be incorporated into clothing where they could harvest energy from the wearer’s movement," says ABI researcher Ben O'Brien. The artificial muscle is made of a rubbery material that has mechanical properties similar to human muscle and can generate electricity when stretched. "It means that people would not have to worry about the batteries on their portable devices dying out and because it would reduce the number and size of batteries required, it would mean less batteries ending up in our landfills," O'Brien says.
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