Welcome to the December 14, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. Rejects Telecommunications Treaty
New York Times (12/13/12) Eric Pfanner
The United States, Canada, and several European countries formally rejected a treaty proposed by Russia, China, and several developing countries that would have altered how international communications are governed. While the proposed agreement would not take effect until 2015 and is not legally binding, the United States and its supporters felt they had headed off a significant threat to the "open Internet," according to American delegation head Terry Kramer. The two sides had differences of opinion over the growing importance of digital communications networks as tools for personal communications, global commerce, political proselytization, and unconventional warfare. The United States position was that the Internet should not have been mentioned in the proposed treaty because doing so could lead to curbs on free speech and replace the existing, bottom-up form of Internet oversight with a government-led model. "We cannot support a treaty that is not supportive of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance," Kramer says. The Russian-led treaty argued that the Internet was within the scope of the talks because Internet traffic traveled through telecommunications networks. The United States and its supporters interpreted the wording of the treaty as supporting a shift in the governance of the Internet to bring it under the regulatory framework of the International Telecommunication Union. The Internet is currently governed by a loose grouping of organizations, mostly in the private sector, rather than by governments, with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers operating under a contract from the United States government. Another issue was whether the treaty should include a reference to human rights in its preamble. Several European countries, supported by the United States, Tunisia, Kenya, and others, succeeded in inserting such language into the proposal, arguing that "nondiscriminatory access" to telecommunications was an important free-speech issue. However China, Saudi Arabia, and other countries consistently opposed this clause. There was also a dispute, brought forth by several African countries, over adding a guarantee that nations, not just individuals, should have access to "international telecommunications services." This proposal was adopted in a majority vote, over the objections of the United States and many European nations. The United States position on many of these issues is supported by Internet companies and groups that campaign against restrictions on the Internet.
Vint Cerf: The Internet Doesn't Need the ITU's Help
InfoWorld (12/13/12) Joab Jackson
Efforts to devise new regulations for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) could harm the Internet, warns Google executive and ACM president Vint Cerf. He says "the Internet is under threat," and says delegates at the WCIT may try to extend the ITU's power over the Internet. "The natural reaction of any institution that wants to preserve its existence is to reach out for new territory," Cerf says. No one is in charge of the Internet and this lack of control seems to perplex government officials, he says, with the push for new ITU guidelines coming from authoritarian governments that are members of WCIT and want to restrict the Internet. "If you are an authoritarian government, then the Internet is a threat," Cerf notes. "The Internet is the most democratizing engine ever invented." He says the WCIT's efforts also could be an attempt by the ITU to extend its reach to the Internet, especially as its own influence appears to be waning. Cerf suggests that nations work together informally to combat Internet problems such as viruses and spam, similar to the way the Internet Engineering Task Force operates.
Researchers Synthesize Sound From Electrical Energy of Slime Mold
PhysOrg.com (12/12/12) Bob Yirka
Plymouth University researchers have converted the electrical output of common slime mold into a form of music. The team from the Interdisciplinary Center for Computer Music Research placed slime mold in a Petri dish along with several electrodes--each with a food source placed on top of it to attract the mold. Slime mold moves by generating protoplasmic tubes that span part of the distance between itself and where it wants to go, and the creation of the tubes involves internal electrical activity, which makes it possible to create music of a sort. The team recorded the electrical energy released--once per second--as the mold produced protoplasmic tubes while moving over the electrodes. The researchers fed the recorded signals from the electrodes into an audio oscillator. They then mixed the sounds generated from all of the recordings to create an eerie type of music, and the team discovered that it could cause different sounds by shining light on different parts of the mold. Slime mold can take a week to cover the electrodes. As a result, the team fed what it learned about the process into a computer for simulation, which allowed for a quick creation of similar music.
U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens
Wall Street Journal (12/12/12) Julia Angwin
The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) implemented a new program in March that allows the agency to copy entire government databases and examine information about U.S. citizens in order to detect possible terrorist activity. The program allows NCTC to keep millions of records about U.S. citizens who have committed no crime for five years, while data about Americans that is "reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information" can be kept indefinitely. NCTC had previously been prohibited from storing information about U.S. citizens unless they were terror suspects or related to an investigation in some other way, but the U.S. Attorney General approved intelligence officials' requests for broader access to the data. The program also allows the federal government to share the databases with other countries so that they can analyze them as well. NCTC says the changes were needed to address the intelligence shortcomings surrounding the failed bombing of an airliner on Dec. 25, 2009. However, critics say the program is similar, although not nearly as broad, as the Pentagon's controversial Total Information Awareness program, which would have analyzed both public and private databases for terrorist leads.
U.S. Sees Tech's 'Center of Gravity' Shifting to Asia
Computerworld (12/12/12) Patrick Thibodeau
The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) recently released "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds," a report that outlines potential worldwide scenarios over the next 15 to 20 years. The report envisions tech empowering people in the coming years, and predicts that 80 percent of the world's population eventually will have access to cloud services and new analytical capabilities. In addition, the report predicts that by 2030 Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power, based upon gross domestic product, population size, military spending, and technological investment. The report also anticipates a "shift in the technological center of gravity from West to East and South . . . as the flows of companies, ideas, entrepreneurs, and capital from the developed to the developing markets increase." DNI also expects that future technology trends will be dominated by big data and the tools used to manage it. Quantum computing could start to have an impact by 2030, according to the report, which also predicts the development of "smart cities" that use advanced IT capabilities in all aspects of urban management. Meanwhile, the report says that robots "could eliminate the need for human labor entirely in some manufacturing environments" by 2030.
All-Seeing Headset Gives You 360-Degree Vision
New Scientist (12/12/12) Hal Hodson
Grande Ecole d'Ingenieurs Paris-Laval researchers have developed FlyVIZ, a computer-vision system that is worn on the head and captures images from every direction around the wearer and uses image-processing software to generate and display a two-dimensional picture for the user. The system uses a video camera, mounted on top of a helmet, and specially shaped mirrors to capture the environment on all sides of the wearer. FlyVIZ then displays the images in real time on a modified Sony headset. The researchers say the system enables users to move around and interact fluidly with the environment. During testing, users grabbed sticks that would have been outside their normal field of view, dodged balls thrown from behind them, and drove cars. Although FlyVIZ displays images in two dimensions, the researchers say users were able to maintain serviceable depth perception. The researchers note the system could eventually be used by security guards, police, and fire fighters.
TACC Develops Visualization Software for Humanities Researchers
Texas Advanced Computing Center (12/11/12) Faith Singer-Villalobos
The University of Texas at Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) recently released "Most Pixels Ever: Cluster Edition," an open source program that enables researchers to create interactive, multimedia visualizations on high-resolution displays. "The goal is to make visualization tools easier for humanities researchers to use," says TACC's Rob Turknett. The software is based on Processing, a programming toolkit that simplifies how visualizations are made. "As the amount of cultural data that scholars work with increases, it becomes crucial to visualize that data on a sufficiently high-resolution display," Turknett says. The research builds on ideas from New York University researcher Daniel Shiffman's "Most Pixels Ever" program. However, TACC's Brandt Westing says Shiffman's program was not suited for tiled-cluster displays. "We re-wrote the software from scratch to work on any type of composite display from laptops to the highest-end visualization clusters and tiled displays," Westing says. University of Texas at Austin professor Jason Baldridge is using TACC's program to analyze a collection of several hundred texts from the Civil War. "The software that we've developed is part of an effort to make advanced visualization systems more accessible to people who may not have a deep technical background," Turknett says.
Researchers Developing Alan Turing Artificial Intelligence 'Gooware'
University of the West of England researchers have made progress in building a "gooware" computer, based on Alan Turing’s idea of "unorganized machines." Turing argued the simplest form of an unorganized machine would be a randomly connected network of NAND logic gates, known as A-type machines. The West of England researchers are focusing on an unusual group of chemical reactions called Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reactions. These reactions do not reach a stable equilibrium point, and subtle stimuli can produce patterns in a normally calm mixture. The waves of chemical changes in the BZ reaction are used as the basis of transferring information. A processor made from a BZ reaction could potentially move information in any direction and handle more data than a traditional computer. The researchers have also shown that they can use their BZ NAND gate as the basis of an A-type unorganized machine. "It was then shown how a number of well-known benchmark logic gates can be designed from A-type unorganized machines using an approach inspired by a comment from Turing on cultural search," according to the researchers.
IBM Paves Way for Wearable Electronics, Folding Displays
EE Times (12/11/12) Brian Fuller
IBM says it has developed a low-cost technique for manufacturing silicon-based electronics on a flexible plastic substrate. Comparing the approach to other one- and two-dimensional materials that have been tried for flexible electronics, "these [other] materials still have problems such as low resistance contacts, reliable gate dielectrics," says IBM researcher Davood Shahrjerdi. IBM's approach involves controlled spalling, or flaking, which is the "kerfless" removal of silicon, germanium, and 111-V layers. The researchers say the technique yielded functional SRAM cells down to VDD=0.6V, and its ring oscillators had a stage delay of 16 ps at 0.9V, which they said was the best reported for a flexible circuit. The researchers say they were able to improve the mechanical flexibility by removing excess silicon below the buried oxide using an etch process. IBM says the technique indicates that manufacturing flexible and affordable electronics is possible using conventional processes at room temperature.
Tech Workers Back Need for More Women in IT but Oppose Quotas
TechRepublic (12/10/12) Nick Heath
There are not enough women in the information technology industry, according to 77 percent of respondents to a survey of 336 IT professionals in the United Kingdom. However, 71 percent of the respondents oppose using quotas to boost the number of female employees in IT shops. Instead, many of the respondents said they prefer to inspire more women to pursue tech careers by better promoting successful women in the industry. The respondents said women are not choosing a career in IT because of the perception that the industry is dominated by males and because it has a geeky image. They also said women are least represented in engineering and security. The BCSWomen group is among several organizations that are actively involved in the effort to address the shortfall, and founder Sue Black supports the use of quotas to increase the number of female IT workers. "To make a difference quickly though, I would argue for a quota or for getting organizations to work together to leverage capability, reach, and impact," Black says.
Intelligent 3D Image Technology Could Enable Targeted Out-of-Home Advertising
UWE Bristol News (12/11/12)
The United Kingdom is funding a project that will give researchers at the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE) an opportunity to use 2-D and 3-D image-recognition technology to analyze and measure consumer demographics and behavior. UWE Bristol's Machine Vision Lab is partnering with Aralia Systems to develop technology that would enable advertisements to detect information from pedestrians and select an ad that would be of interest to them. Aralia Systems is developing an image-analysis algorithm that embeds image-recognition technology in ads. "The aim is to detect basic human demographic information such as age and gender, together with behavior such as head movements, and how long people are looking at an advert, for use in targeted marketing campaigns," says UWE Bristol professor Mel Smith. Aralia's Eleanor Wright notes that "consumers won't be pestered -- this automatically gathered information would be used to intelligently adapt advertising content to something relevant to them and so reduce the existing barrage of irritating irrelevant advertising." The technology will not recognize individuals and will not store image data, but the more time someone spends looking at an ad, the more information will pop up.
For Honest Voting, Write a Message the 'Man in the Middle' Can't Intercept
Cornell Chronicle (12/10/12) Bill Steele
Cornell University researchers have developed a method for sending a message over a computer network that cannot be altered by a third party. Cornell professor Rafael Pass says the researchers worked in the context of "commitment schemes," such as those that might be used in online bidding for a contract, but their methods could be applied to other computer communications, including stock trading and online voting. The man-in-the-middle attack involves the attacker slipping into the communications channel between two parties and relaying their messages back and forth, fooling them into believing that they are talking directly to one another. In the Cornell system, the content of the message is intertwined with the digital signatures of each party, encoded by a system such as public-key cryptography, where the message is enciphered using a key that is the product of two large prime numbers. The researchers say their protocol works with about 15 rounds of communication and does not require that a "trusted infrastructure" be set up in advance. "I wouldn't say the problem of man-in-the-middle attacks is solved, but a minimal number of communications rounds is now possible," Pass says.
Science,Technology Will Suffer if U.S. Goes Over Fiscal Cliff
HPC Wire (12/11/12) Ian Armas Foster
With the looming fiscal cliff, the big issue for the IT industry is that the sequestration cuts, which are a result of the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the comprehensive spending decrease of the federal government, affect all aspects of the government, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Health (NIH), which award grants and drive the IT industry in the United States. The spending cuts would drop the grant proposal success rate in the NSF from 22 percent to 16 percent while the NIH proposal success rate would drop from 19 percent to 14 percent, according to the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Additionally, with the reduction of the public sector, the private corporations will be flooded with proposals. “If you have a company that’s solely involved in government contracting and therefore their business is cut off, they’re going to try to branch out into other forms of business, at least in the near term, which will squeeze out other companies,” says CompTIA director of public advocacy Lamar Whitman. The lower grant acceptance rate will force scientists to devote more time to grant writing instead of focusing on planning and performing experiments. “In essence, they start doing less science – their time is going to preserving funding,” says AIBS director of public policy Robert Gropp. This scenario could affect the number of professionals available to train young people for the jobs of the future. Going over the fiscal cliff would cut 31,000 jobs in the sciences alone, according to a George Mason University study.
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