Welcome to the November 21, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Scientists Find Cheaper Way to Ensure Internet Security
New York Times (11/20/12) John Markoff
Scientists at Toshiba and Cambridge University have used an advanced photodetector to extract weak photons from the torrents of light pulses carried by fiber-optic cables, in a technique that offers a less expensive way to ensure the security of the Internet. Based on quantum physics, the approach would make it possible to safely distribute secret keys necessary to scramble data over distances up to 56 miles. Although several quantum key distribution systems are commercially available, they rely on the need to transmit the quantum key separately from communication data, often in a separate optical fiber, which adds cost and complexity, says Toshiba Research Europe's Andrew J. Shields. Weaving quantum information into conventional networking data will lower the cost and simplify coding and decoding data. The system developed by Toshiba and Cambridge sends the quantum information over the same fiber, but isolates it in its own frequency. "We can pick out the quantum photons from the scattered light using their expected arrival time at the detector," Shields says. "The quantum signals hit the detector at precisely known times--every one nanosecond, while the arrival time of the scattered light is random."
China Moves to Beat U.S. in Exascale Computing
Computerworld (11/20/12) Patrick Thibodeau
China recently has fully embraced high-performance computing and now has 72 systems on the most recent Top500 supercomputer list, making it the second largest HPC user in the world behind the United States. Part of China's strategy includes building an indigenous tech industry. "What I think is interesting is the dedication [in China] to creating a home-grown economy for computing," says Argonne National Laboratory's Pete Beckman. He says the biggest challenge in HPC is the development of an exascale system that is 1,000 times more powerful than the petaflop systems being deployed today. "I personally believe there is no way to achieve these goals [of building an exascale system] by any one government, one country--it far exceeds what people are going to invest and also exceeds the technical talent, so collaboration--that's easy," says U.S. Department of Energy researcher William Harrod. Intersect360 Research CEO Addison Snell thinks the Chinese could construct an exaflop computer by 2020. "The U.S. may intend to wait for a more sophisticated design, but it will have to deal in the meantime with the public perception that China will have passed us by," he says.
The Computer That Stores and Processes Information at the Same Time
Technology Review (11/21/12)
Computer scientists claim they can now store and process information simultaneously like a human brain by using nanoscale electronic components. This form of computation, dubbed memcomputing, is outlined by University of California, San Diego researcher Max Di Ventra and University of South Carolina, Columbia researcher Yuriy Pershin. Memcomputing's core components are the memristor, memcapacitor, and meminductor, which store data while functioning respectively as resistors, capacitors, and inductors. The researchers have refined the essential characteristics that should enable these elements to equal the brain's performance, including the capacity for long-term information storage, collective action so that the state of a memdevice as a whole relies on the states of its constituent components, and resilience against noise and slight imperfections. The researchers note that memcapicitors and meminductors have zero energy consumption, which should allow, for the first time, a close approximation of natural system energy efficiency. "An important milestone in this field would be the demonstration of a memcomputing device with computing capabilities and power consumption comparable to (or better than) those of the human brain," the researchers say.
DreamWorks Releases Software Used in 'Guardians'
Wall Street Journal (11/21/12) Erica Orden
DreamWorks Animation SKG has released onto the open market specialized animation software for more easily generating volumetric effects in the hope that it will be embraced as an industry standard and embedded into popular software platforms. Becoming an industry standard would boost the software's usefulness for DreamWorks, which created the program for use in the upcoming computer-animated film "Rise of the Guardians." The Open VDB software is "faster and requires less data" than existing software to represent amorphous materials, says "Guardians" effects director Yancy Lindquist. He notes Open VDB was used to create spectacular and complex elements in the film, such as one character's power to communicate thoughts and emotion through swirling streams of sand that transform into diverse configurations and characters. Although keeping Open VDB to itself could give DreamWorks a limited competitive edge, visual effects supervisor David Prescott says its release as an open source program could work to the advantage of the studio if it becomes an standard format. "Software companies will integrate them into their toolkit," he says. "That ends up benefiting us."
Joint Venture to Shape the Future of the Web
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (11/19/12)
Researchers at the University of Southampton and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft have developed SoFWIRed, a Web collaboration in Web and Internet science designed to shape the future of the Internet and associated smart services and technologies. The program includes a series of activities that will lead to the development of comprehensive, interoperable platforms for data and knowledge-driven processing of open data. SoFWIRed also will investigate aspects of collective intelligence through social collaboration and crowdsourcing, dynamic Web objects, and Internet services. One of the primary objectives is to develop the concept of a "Web Observatory" to enable researchers to share data about how the Web and society evolve over time, analyze how it impacts on business activity, and develop mechanisms and tools to enable further interpretation and analysis. "Working in unison, the University of Southampton and Fraunhofer are perfectly poised to make the breakthroughs that will produce the enabling technologies of the future as well as our understanding of how best to exploit these technologies for the benefit of all in society," says Southampton professor Dame Wendy Hall.
Seeking a Better Way to Find Web Images
New York Times (11/19/12) John Markoff
Researchers at Stanford and Princeton universities have developed ImageNet, a visual database designed to mimic the human vision system. With more than 14 million labeled objects, the database has become a key resource for computer vision researchers. Google researchers recently tested ImageNet on a huge collection of labeled photos. The system performed almost twice as well as previous neural network algorithms. "My dream has long been to build a vision system that recognizes the world the way that humans do," says Stanford professor Fei-Fei Li. The researchers built ImageNet using Amazon's Mechanical Turk to enlist thousands of humans to describe the contents of a picture, and it is now the world's largest academic user of Mechanical Turk workers. Each year up to 30,000 people are automatically presented with images to label, receiving a tiny payment for each one. "Its size is by far much greater than anything else available in the computer vision community, and thus helped some researchers develop algorithms they could never have produced otherwise," says Google researcher Samy Bengio.
Human Brain, Internet, and Cosmology: Similar Laws at Work?
UCSD News (CA) (11/19/12) Jan Zverina
All complex networks, including the universe, the human brain, and the Internet and social networks, may have more in common than previously thought, according to University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers. "The discovered equivalence between the growth of the universe and complex networks strongly suggests that unexpectedly similar laws govern the dynamics of these very different complex systems," says Dmitri Krioukov, a research scientist at UCSD's Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis. Krioukov says structural and dynamical similarities among different real networks suggest the presence of universal laws that govern these systems. The researchers used supercomputer simulations to prove that the causal network representing the large-scale structure of space and time in the accelerating universe is similar to many complex networks such as the Internet, social, and biological networks. "We discovered that the large-scale growth dynamics of complex networks and causal networks are asymptotically the same, explaining the structural similarity between these networks," Krioukov says. The researchers used the Trestles supercomputer to perform simulations of the universe's growing causal network. The San Diego Supercomputer Center's Robert Sinkovits parallelized and optimized the application, which enabled Trestles to complete the simulation in just over one day, instead of three or four years.
Two-Ton Witch Computer Gets a Reboot
BBC News (11/19/12) Mark Ward
The world's oldest original working digital computer, the Witch, has been restored after a three-year effort and was recently put on display at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) in Bletchley Park. In the 1950s, the Witch was one of the world's most advanced machines, and was a major component of the United Kingdom's atomic energy research program. The machine first ran in 1951, and was able to multiply two numbers in 10 seconds. However, by 1957 the Witch was already being out performed by smaller and faster machines. The Witch was on display at Birmingham's Museum of Science and Industry for 24 years until 1997 when the museum closed and it was dismantled and put into storage. The restoration effort was led by conservationist Delwyn Holroyd. He says the vast majority of the machine's parts, including its 480 relays and 828 Dekatron tubes, are original. "It's important for us to have a machine like this back in working order as it gives us an understanding of the state of technology in the late 1940s in Britain," says TNMOC's Kevin Murrell.
Fabrication on Patterned Silicon Carbide Produces Bandgap for Graphene-Based Electronics
Georgia Tech News (11/18/12) John Toon
Georgia Tech researchers have created a substantial electronic bandgap in the material suitable for room-temperature electronics by fabricating graphene structures on top of nanometer-scale steps etched into silicon carbide. The research could lead to a new direction for the field of graphene electronics. "We can now look seriously at making fast transistors from graphene," says Georgia Tech professor Edward Conrad. In addition to the creation of a bandgap in the material, the technique also could lead to the fabrication of entire integrated circuits from graphene without the need for interfaces that introduce resistance. "The material at the bends is semiconducting, and it's attached to graphene continuously on both sides," Conrad notes. By growing the graphene down one edge of the trench and then up the other side, the researchers could theoretically generate two linked Shottky barriers, a basic element of semiconductor devices. Conrad and colleagues are striving to manufacture transistors based on their discovery. In the future, the researchers will learn more about what creates the bandgap and how to control it. "If this works on a large scale, it could launch a niche market for high-speed, high-powered electronic devices," Conrad says.
Internet Freedom Remains U.S. Priority at U.N. Conference
IDG News Service (11/18/12) Grant Gross
The U.S. delegation to the U.N. International Telecommunication Union's (ITU's) upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) will advocate for free speech online and oppose any broad new Internet regulations, says delegation head Terry Kramer. The delegation is worried that some nations will lobby for telecom-style termination fees for Web traffic in order to raise funds for broadband implementation, while some countries might call for Internet censorship for cybersecurity reasons. Kramer says the United States will oppose any attempt to impose online regulation. Meanwhile, ITU's Gary Fowlie says the WCIT's regulations should be extended to support a "global information society." Fowlie also says WCIT should investigate ways to ensure universal Internet affordability and accessibility. However, he notes that Internet censorship efforts would run afoul of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds freedom of expression "through any media and regardless of frontiers." Syracuse University professor Milton Mueller advocates ITU jettisoning international telecom regulations, with such rules best left to private companies and civil society.
In Fairfax County, the Classroom Is a (Cyber) Battlefield
Washington Post (11/17/12) T. Rees Shapiro
Thousands of students across the U.S. recently participated in the opening round of the CyberPatriot challenge, the premier high school cyberwarfare competition. The event focuses mainly on defending networks, putting teams through reconnaissance missions of probing a network firewall for weaknesses and other hidden vulnerabilities in a system, deleting files, and adding password protections. A second round will be held before the semifinals in January, and the finals will be in mid-March. The winning teams will receive thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Since its launch in 2009, CyberPatriot has grown in popularity among teenagers who are interested in pursuing careers in computer science. "There's an enormous appetite for what we're offering here," says Bernard Skoch, a retired Air Force brigadier general and commissioner of the CyberPatriot event. "People don’t realize cybersecurity is a national imperative. We can’t find enough people to fill all of the cybersecurity jobs." Northrop Grumman's Diane Miller notes the contest concentrates mainly on network defense rather than intrusion.
Twitter Shows Language Evolves in Cities
New Scientist (11/17/12) Jim Giles
Georgia Institute of Technology professor Jacob Eisenstein and colleagues are using social networks to examine the evolution of language. The researchers collected 30 million Tweets sent from U.S. locations between December 2009 and May 2011, and built a mathematical model to capture the flow of new words between cities. The model found that new words tend to take life in cities with large African American populations before spreading more widely. Moreover, cities that are economically and ethnically similar are more likely to share new words. "Their results indicate that birds of a feather tweet together," says University of Groningen linguist John Nerbonne. The researchers are working on a more detailed analysis that could potentially reveal which cities are most influential. Eisenstein also wants to know whether neologisms spread more quickly because of Twitter and other social networks. An analysis of many types of data, including blog posts and Facebook entries, would enable the team to study whether social media is accelerating the evolution of language more generally.
Tracking Facial Features to Make Driving Safer and More Comfortable
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (11/16/12) Anne-Muriel Brouet
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) researchers are developing software that will use facial information to make cars safer and more comfortable. The program uses facial-recognition technology in real time to relay the exact position of the driver, as well eye-tracking devices to indicate the direction in which they are looking. "Our goal is to build the technological base to detect and situate a driver’s face at any moment in time," says EPFL's Jean-Philippe Thiran. The tool will enable researchers to build and test various driver-assistance applications such as eye tracking, fatigue detection, and lip reading, Thiran adds. "With this study we are trying to make the interface between the car and the driver more intuitive; reading intentions from facial features is a very natural interactive mode," says EPFL's Olivier Pajot. The researchers already have developed a prototyping platform and they plan to test the system in realistic conditions in the near future.
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