Welcome to the December 17, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
After WCIT: Some Observers Fear Content Proposals
IDG News Service (12/14/12) Grant Gross
Following the controversial conclusion to the International Telecommunication Union's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) there are concerns by participants and observers that a treaty worked out at the event may spur countries to implement long-term Web content censorship. At the heart of the anxiety are the pact's provisions on security and spam through coordination among nations. "This is talking about harmonious development of international telecommunications services," says the Internet Society's Sally Wentworth. "Are countries looking for common security practices across borders?" Syracuse University professor Milton Mueller says the agreement will not affect the Internet, and that spam and security provisions are of no importance. He also says the language encouraging countries to take necessary spam prevention steps will not confer new powers on nations. Meanwhile, the Internet Society and other critics are balking at language that extends the definition of operating agencies covered by the regulations, with some implying that the WCIT treaty will authorize nations to regulate Internet content creators and application developers. Some observers reiterate concerns of Internet balkanization, with Voice Communication Exchange Committee founder Daniel Berninger warning of "separate first-world and second-world Internets" going forward.
Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm Gets Closer Than Ever to Human Limb
Reuters (12/17/12) Chris Wickham
U.S. researchers say they have developed a robotic arm directly controlled by brain impulses that is superior to other robotic limbs in mimicking the fluidity and control of the human arm. University of Pittsburgh researchers implanted two microelectrode devices into a paralyzed subject's left motor cortex and used functional magnetic resonance imaging to find the precise brain region that lit up after the patient was asked to think about moving her arms. The electrodes interfaced with a robotic hand via a computer operating an algorithm to translate the signals that emulates how an unimpaired brain controls healthy limbs. "There is no limit now to decoding human motion," says researcher Michael Boninger. Following a long training period, the subject eventually was able to use the hand to complete tasks with a 91.6 percent success rate. The researchers want to incorporate wireless technology to make a physical connection between the patient and the prosthesis unnecessary. In addition, they say incorporating a sensory loop should make it possible for the user to distinguish between hot and cold, or smooth and rough surfaces.
Quantum Computers Will Be Commercially Available in 20 Years: Scientist
Computerworld Australia (12/14/12) Byron Connolly
University of New South Wales (UNSW) professor Andrew Dzurak predicts that commercially available quantum computing will in arrive two decades, while demonstrations of complex modeling via quantum computing will emerge within 10 years. Dzurak expects quantum computing will have major implications for solving complex problems such as modeling and simulation. He says over the past few years silicon has exceeded scientists' hopes as a material for quantum computers, thanks to its ability to keep quantum bits viable for several minutes, which in computing time represents a lifetime. Dzurak says atoms can have diverse isotopes corresponding to the different numbers of neutrons in their nucleus, and it is critical that the silicon have no nuclear spins in it. Rather, the spin is provided by insertion of a phosphorus atom that serves as a quantum bit. Purification of the silicon into the silicon 28 isotope produces material that can extend the spin decoherence time into minutes, according to Dzurak. He reports that UNSW has acquired "some of the highest purity silicon 28 in the world" from which to fashion new quantum bit devices in the hope that dramatic improvements in error rates can be demonstrated within the next six to 12 months.
AI Designer Learns to Build Games From Scratch
New Scientist (12/14/12) Douglas Heaven
A festive platform game is the latest creation of Angelina, an artificial intelligence system developed by Imperial College London's Michael Cook that designs its own video games. Cook says Angelina made "A Puzzling Present" by using the code of existing games as a starting point and refining the features it found into something new. Angelina now has the ability to pick and choose game ingredients, compared to previously, when it came up with game mechanics by putting together rules it was given. Cook says that process involved slotting game mechanics together in new ways like a jigsaw, but he was never satisfied because he had to hand the system the jigsaw pieces. Angelina is able to find and test game possibilities using "reflection," a technique that lets software examine and manipulate its own code. Cook starts by providing a game level that can not be solved, and then Angelina redesigns the level in an iterative process, using ideas it finds in existing games, making changes, testing them, and making further tweaks until the changes work. Angelina has even found bugs in Cook's code and taken advantage of them to invent new game levels. Cook says the system could offer constructive criticism to game designers.
New Online Learning Tool Brings 'the Crowd' Into Homework Assignments
MIT News (12/14/12) Abby Abazorius
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed Caesar, a computer system designed to provide students with feedback on their homework assignments and create more interaction between students, teachers, and alumni. The researchers say Caesar was developed to address the challenge of how to facilitate instructor feedback to the hundreds of students taking an introductory computer science course. "What we are trying to do is to learn how to use a crowd of people with mixed expertise in an intelligent way; one that helps students and 'the crowd' expand their knowledge and improve on their expertise," says MIT professor Rob Miller. Caesar consists of the code selector, the task router, and the reviewing interface. After the students have turned in an assignment, the code selector divides their work into chunks and prioritizes the chunks that need review, based on features of the code that suggest it will need attention. The task router then assigns these chunks to a diverse group of reviewers. Caesar also provides opportunities for other kinds of interaction among its users, as reviewers can agree or disagree with fellow reviewer's comments.
Content Is King: Can Researchers Design an Information-Centric Internet?
Scientific American (12/13/12) Larry Greenemeier
The Internet needs to be transformed from a network that emphasizes where data is located to one that focuses on the nature of the data itself, according to former Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) research fellow Van Jacobson. While at PARC, Jacobson led the organization’s Project CNNx effort to overcome the current Internet architecture’s shortcomings as a media distribution platform. “The goal of content-centric networking is to get out of this phone-call world and instead ask the network for what you want,” Jacobson says. If the Internet focused more on content than addresses, it could better accommodate modern speed and security needs. “The interesting thing about allowing routers to use bits in the packets that are not addresses [is] that you can configure a network or network of networks around something other than formal address structures,” says Google vice president and ACM president Vint Cerf. The information-centric model (ICN) proposes that users retrieve information from locations closest to them, a more efficient process than the current approach of routing information requests throughout the Internet. One such ICN project is the University of Cambridge’s Publish Subscribe Internet Technology project, which supports a variation of the “publish-and-subscribe” model.
Follow the Eyes: Head-Mounted Cameras Could Help Robots Understand Social Interactions
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (12/13/12) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) robotics researchers have developed an algorithm that uses crowdsourcing to detect where people's gazes intersect. The researchers tested their method by monitoring the gaze patterns of volunteers equipped with head-mounted displays. The data enabled researchers to determine if the volunteers were listening to a single speaker, interacting as a group, or watching a bouncing ball in a ping-pong game. The researchers say their algorithm could be used by robots to evaluate social cues, such as the expressions on people's faces or body movements, or data from other types of visual or audio sensors. "This really is just a first step toward analyzing the social signals of people," says CMU's Hyun Soo Park. The technology could eventually help robots understand their social environment. The head-mounted cameras provide precise data about what users are looking at in social settings, and the CMU algorithm can automatically estimate the number and 3D position of "gaze concurrences," which are the positions where the gazes of multiple people intersect. CMU professor Yaser Sheikh the cameras also could be used by people who work in cooperative teams with robots.
Researcher Working on Wearable Computers to Monitor Health
UT Dallas News (12/14/12) LaKisha Ladson
University of Texas at Dallas researchers, led by professor Roozbeh Jafari, are developing wearable wireless computers that are about the size of a button, which makes them small enough to be easily worn on the body. "Roozbeh Jafari has established a very dynamic, innovative laboratory in electrical engineering, that has bridged research challenges in brain-computer interfaces in a remarkable way," says UT Dallas dean John Hansen. The researchers say the key to making the portable systems smaller is removing the large batteries used to process data and making the whole system more energy efficient. The UT Dallas technique involves developing methods that would remove unnecessary data and save energy for processing only the most vital functions. Jafari's research optimizes the use of power throughout the entire system, which includes biosensors that collect data from the human body, and devices that process and communicate the information. He says the algorithms also can coordinate, manage, and transmit information from various wearable computers. "Growing demand for health-care monitoring applications requires students, engineers, and healthcare professionals to design, develop, deploy, and operate wearable systems," Jafari says.
UDaily (DE) (12/11/12) Karen B. Roberts
University of Delaware researchers are developing power sources for flexible, stretchable electronics, which could find applications in biomedical, wearable, portable, and sensory devices. "Advances in soft and stretchable substrates and elastomeric materials have given rise to an entirely new field," says Delaware professor Bingqing Wei. However, he notes that stretchable electronics need rechargeable and stretchable energy storage devices, also known as supercapacitors, in order to function properly. The researchers studied stretchable supercapacitor's electrochemical behavior using buckled single-wall nanotube electrodes and an elastomeric separator. Wei says the supercapacitor they developed achieved excellent stability in testing and the results will provide important guidelines for future design and testing of the energy storage device.
Got Food Allergies? Thanks to UCLA, You Can Test Your Meal on the Spot Using a Cell Phone
UCLA Newsroom (12/12/12) Matthew Chin
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have developed iTube, a lightweight device that attaches to a cell phone to detect allergens in food samples. ITube uses the cell phone’s built-in camera and a smartphone application to run a laboratory-level test on the sample. The attachment analyzes a test tube-based allergen-concentration test known as a colorimetric assay. The samples are first ground up and mixed in a test tube with hot water and an extraction solvent. Then, following a step-by-step procedure, the sample is mixed with several other reactive testing liquids. When the sample is ready, it is measured optically for allergen concentration through the iTube platform, which can test for a variety of allergens, including peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten, and hazelnuts, says UCLA professor Aydogan Ozcan. “We envision that this cell phone-based allergen testing platform could be very valuable, especially for parents, as well as for schools, restaurants, and other public settings,” Ozcan says.
State-of-the-Art Virtual Reality System Is Key to Medical Discovery
National Science Foundation (12/11/12) Bobbie Mixon
University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) researchers are using CAVE2, a next-generation, large-scale, virtual environment, to study brain aneurysms. “We had been looking at computer models of a particular patient’s brain for several months, but within five minutes of putting the model into the CAVE2, the chief endovascologist said we had connected certain arteries in a way that was inconsistent with anatomy,” says UIC professor Andreas Linninger. He notes that without CAVE2’s ability to electronically immerse the researchers in the data, they could have continued to miss this significant data point and struggle with developing an accurate model. “CAVE2 gives us a unique ability to take that data and represent it in a large-scale virtual environment,” says Jason Leigh, director of UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL). He says CAVE2 enables researchers to combine the benefits of scalable-resolution display walls and virtual-reality systems to create a seamless 2D and 3D environment. “CAVE2 is the culmination of the lab’s 20-plus years of expertise in virtual reality and in large-scale displays," says EVL researcher Andrew Johnson.
IBM Research Honcho: From the Pentagon to the 'Toy Shop'
CNet (12/10/12) Daniel Terdiman
Zachary Lemnios, IBM's vice president of research strategy and former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, recently spoke to CNet about how the two roles differ and the state of the U.S.'s defenses against cyberattacks. Lemnios says cybersecurity is an area in which industry, government, and the private sector have to take partnership roles. "One of the biggest challenges we have in cybersecurity is that it's hard to know when a network is secure," he notes. Lemnios' main role at IBM is to drive the research strategy, to make the research investments that IBM makes more relevant, to accelerate the impact, and to accelerate the deployment of those ideas. He says IBM's Grand Challenges initiative, which focuses on cognitive computing, big data, mobile applications, is a key driver of the research strategy. "What's really exciting to me are the products that it's going to spawn, and the way IBM will use the results of Watson in the medical field, in education, and in thinking about how we might apply the learning and the reasoning elements of Watson to other fields, and to change and open new businesses," Lemnios says.
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