Welcome to the March 27, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computer Science Enrollments Rise 29% in 2011-12
Computerworld (03/25/13) Patrick Thibodeau
Enrollment in computer-related degree programs has risen for the fifth straight year, according to the Computing Research Association (CRA). CRA's annual Taulbee Survey found that the number of new undergraduate computer science majors at U.S. Ph.D.-granting universities rose by more than 29 percent in 2012. CRA, which called the increase "astonishing," noted the percentage increase in bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science has reached double digits for the third straight year. The year-over-year increases were 19.8 percent overall and 16.6 percent among departments that participated in the survey this year and last year. CRA members believe the recent increase in enrollment is occurring in part because "students are much more aware of the importance of computational thinking in just about every other field of science and technology," says CRA's Peter Harsha.
Firm Is Accused of Sending Spam, and Fight Jams Internet
New York Times (03/26/13) John Markoff; Nicole Perlroth
A dispute between Spamhaus, a spam-fighting group, and Cyberbunker, a Dutch hosting services company, has escalated into one of the largest computer attacks on the Internet, causing widespread congestion to critical infrastructure around the world. Security experts say such attacks are getting increasingly severe and eventually could prevent users from accessing basic Internet services. The dispute started when Spamhaus, which uses volunteers to identify spammers, added Cyberbunker to its blacklist. The attacks, which are generated by botnet swarms, concentrate data streams that are larger than the Internet connections of entire countries, notes Akamai Networks' Patrick Gilmore. Cyberbunker thinks "they should be allowed to spam," Gilmore adds. The distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks have reached previously unknown levels, growing to a data stream of 300 billion bits per second. "It is the largest publicly announced DDoS attack in the history of the Internet," Gilmore says. Several Internet engineers say a key source of the problem is that many larger Internet service providers are not ensuring that traffic leaving their networks is coming from their users. Although that security flaw is well-known, only recently has it been exploited to the extent that it threatens the Internet's infrastructure.
The Cloud Within Us
A team of international researchers, led by Cadi Ayyad University's Hajar Mousannif and Johannes Kepler Uniersity's Ismail Khalil and Gabriele Kotsis, have developed a peer-to-peer cloud architecture called Cooperation as a Service (CaaS). The researchers say the system provides users with all of the necessary infrastructure, platform, and software services in the cloud by utilizing the cooperation of peers within the system instead of relying on third-party systems. The CaaS cloud architecture allows computers to share information and other resources with peers on the network in large-scale distributed-computing environments. The researchers note the approach fuels spontaneous participation among the peers because if they do not assist each other, then their own services will not function. In the future, the researchers plan to create a large enough network to sustain CaaS and to ensure that security and privacy are maintained.
Turing's 'Universal Machine' Voted Top British Innovation
InformationWeek (03/25/13) Gary Flood
Alan Turing's Universal Machine has been voted the top British innovation over the past 100 years, according to the website Great British Innovation. More than 50,000 people voted in the online competition, which featured 100 British industrial and technical triumphs. Voters chose Turing's thought experiment over innovations such as the Mini automobile, X-ray crystallography, genetic fingerprinting, and the discovery of pulsars. In a paper in 1936 titled "On Computable Numbers," Turing outlined a device that would read symbols on a paper tape, and he proposed that the tape could be used to program the machine. His ideas would become practical machines, starting with his work at the secret code-breaking center, Bletchley Park, during World War II. The work of Turing, British father of computer science, mathematician, and an early artificial intelligence philosopher, has been praised as the foundation for all modern information technology.
AI Programmers Struggle to Make Games 'Imitate Life'
IDG News Service (03/25/13) Zach Miners
Artificial intelligence (AI) in video games should improve to incorporate more intelligent characters into games, AI programmers said at the recent Game Developers Conference. Intelligent characters could enhance games with enemies who have personal flaws for players to exploit, companions who actually assist the player, and mentor characters with personalized advice, says Blizzard Entertainment senior AI and gameplay engineer Brian Schwab. Intelligent characters require information about the player, and PC- and console-based game developers could form data-mining partnerships with mobile game developers to use player data as part of character interactions, Schwab says. Some developers say the lack of understanding of characters' thinking processes, known as "feedback," is an issue when the player acquires no useful information to relate to characters. In addition, programmers should focus on "emergent behaviors," which are events or behaviors that occur in video games that the programmer did not intend, according to some developers. They say more robust, adaptive architecture also should be used in gaming AI to enable the use of more stored player information to adapt the AI based on player decisions.
Pipeline Aims to Help Online Projects
The Tartan (03/25/13) Desiree Xu
Carnegie Mellon University postdoctoral fellow Kurt Luther has developed Pipeline, a tool designed to help users collaborate on online projects. Pipeline "allows the people involved in a project to communicate with strangers who aren’t involved but have an interest," Luther says. Pipeline is a Web application that is a combination of a project management tool and a peer production platform. The program also enables other users to search for projects in which they are interested by giving creators the option to make their works public. Pipeline distributes leadership by allowing the project creator to trust as many or as few people as necessary. Luther notes that all of the features contribute to the completion of complex online creative efforts. He tested Pipeline on his Holiday Flood project, which featured 30 artists from more than 12 different countries collaborating to create a digital calendar. Two pieces of artwork were submitted for each of the 12 days of Christmas, and their thumbnails were lined up to give a preview of the actual calendar.
Luring Young Web Warriors Is a U.S. Priority. It’s Also a Game.
New York Times (03/25/13) Nicole Perlroth
U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano says her department is in dire need of computer hackers. She notes that foreign hackers have started exploring the U.S.’s infrastructure, and estimates her agency requires at least 600 of its own hackers. However, potential recruits with the needed skills typically focus on the private sector, or go to work for the U.S. National Security Agency, where the emphasis is on offensive hacking strategies. DHS wants its hackers to focus on how to keep others out. "We have to show them how cool and exciting this is," says security trainer Ed Skoudis. "And we have to show them that applying these skills to the public sector is important." To this end, security expert Alan Paller and others recently helped form the Virginia Governor’s Cup Cyber Challenge, a hacking event for high school students designed to benefit Homeland Security. Paller also helped form the Cyber Aces to help DHS recruit hackers, a deficiency he compares to the lack of fighter pilots during World War II. “We have no program like that in the United States--nothing,” Paller says. “No one is even teaching this in schools. If we don’t solve this problem, we’re in trouble.”
Study Shows How Easy It Is to Determine Someone's Identity With Cellphone Data
Phys.Org (03/25/13) Lisa Zyga
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers recently completed a study examining how much information is required to determine an individual's personal identity. After analyzing 15 months of cellphone mobility data from 1.5 million users, the researchers found that only four spatio-temporal points are needed to uniquely identify 95 percent of individuals. The study could lead to modifications in privacy law in order to keep pace with technological advances. The researchers also found that knowing just two randomly chosen points can uniquely identify more than 50 percent of individuals. The reference points could come from information that is publicly available, such as the individual's home address, workplace, or Twitter posts. The researchers found that, contrary to expectations, decreased resolution does not make the data more anonymous, and that just a few more pieces of information are needed to identify individuals. The researchers developed a mathematical formula that tells the probability of uniquely identifying an individual based on the data's temporal and spatial resolution. "Our formula allows us to estimate privacy, so now the question is how do we use it to balance things out and make it a fair deal for everybody?" says MIT's Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye.
Personal Monitor Systems May Change Healthcare
UAHuntsville News (03/25/13) Jim Steele
University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) researchers recently received U.S. National Science Foundation funding to develop the mHealth infrastructure, which incorporates computer informatics, smartphones, and energy-efficient and miniaturized electronics and sensors. The mHealth infrastructure can directly provide health information to patients and physicians over the Internet and to researchers as aggregated databases. In 2000, UAH researcher Emil Jovanov first proposed wireless body-area networks for health monitoring as a sensor system to integrate sensors on or in bodies and communicate through the Internet. "This is a fundamentally different approach made possible by the advances in technology, and we are proud that the first paper on it came from UAH," Jovanov says. Since 2000, the size and weight have shrunk and the sensor and communication technologies have advanced. "It is ubiquitous wireless communication anytime, anywhere that has brought tremendous change and will improve our lifestyles tremendously in the future," Jovanov says. UAH's nursing lab also has a patient simulator, a human-like automated dummy that can reproduce the physiological effects of acute medical events. "For us this is very interesting, because we know exactly when these crises will happen and we can control the outcome of the event through the simulator," Jovanov says.
DARPA Wants Unique Automated Tools to Rapidly Make Computers Smarter
Network World (03/21/13) Michael Cooney
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to develop more advanced machine-learning tools as part of the Probabilistic Programming for Advanced Machine Learning (PPAML) initiative. The program aims to increase the number of people who can build machine-learning applications, make machine-learning experts more effective, and enable new applications. PPAML also wants to make machine-learning model code shorter to reduce development time and the level of expertise required to build machine-learning applications. "We want to do for machine learning what the advent of high-level program languages 50 years ago did for the software development community as a whole," says DARPA's Kathleen Fisher. "Through new probabilistic programming languages specifically tailored to probabilistic inference, we hope to decisively reduce the current barriers to machine learning and foster a boom in innovation, productivity, and effectiveness." Any systems developed under PPAML will be evaluated using a collection of challenge problems that span the range of machine-learning applications, according to DARPA.
Quantum Computers Counting on Carbon Nanotubes
Technical University Munich (Germany) (03/21/13)
Technical University Munich (TUM) physicists have discovered that carbon nanotubes can be used as quantum bits for quantum computers. Researchers have so far largely focused on electrically charged particles, but nanomechanical devices are far less sensitive to electrical interference because they are not charged. Nanotubes can store information as vibrations, and can be clamped and excited to vibrate in the same manner as a guitar string. "One would expect that such a system would be strongly damped, and that the vibration would subside quickly," says TUM's Simon Rips. "In fact, the string vibrates more than a million times. The information is thus retained up to one second. That is long enough to work with." However, the string oscillates among many physically equivalent states, so the researchers use an electric field to ensure that two of the many possible states can be selectively addressed. The information can then be written and read optoelectronically, marking an important advance in quantum computing.
Developing and Assessing Teaching Tools for a Techie Generation
McGill Reporter (03/21/13) Katherine Gombay
McGill University's Susanne Lajoie is launching the Learning Environments Across Disciplines (LEADS) project to study the best use of technology to enhance student learning, engagement, and assessment across disciplines from kindergarten to the university level. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is providing LEADS with about $2.5 million over the next eight years. The project will receive input from an international group of experts, including educators, psychologists, computer scientists, engineers, and physicians. The researchers hope to discover ways in which digital technology can make learning more exciting for students, and also to customize learning for different needs and learning styles. To study student use of technology, the researchers will create a range of learning environments with tools such as video cameras, computers, smartphones, tablets, and shared whiteboards. The team will study the impact of student interest and engagement on learning, and various programs will be used to read student facial expressions. "Everyone has a different learning trajectory, and these technologies should be able to help us join the cognitive models with the affective models so that people are motivated to learn, whatever age or field they are in,” Lajoie says.
'Terradynamics' Could Help Designers Predict How Legged Robots Will Move on Granular Media
Georgia Tech News (03/21/13) John Toon
Georgia Tech researchers have developed an approach for understanding and predicting how small-legged robots move on and interact with complex granular materials such as sand. Developing equations to describe and predict this type of movement could enable designers to optimize legged robots operating in complex environments for a wide range of tasks. "We are at the beginning of tools that will allow us to do the design and simulation of legged robots to not only predict their performance, but also to optimize designs and allow us to create new concepts," says Georgia Tech professor Daniel Goldman. The researchers found that the forces applied to independent elements of the robot's legs could be added together to provide an accurate measure of the net force on a robot moving through granular media. "Based on this generalization, we developed a practical procedure for non-specialists to easily apply terradynamics in their own studies using just a single-force measurement made with simple equipment they can buy off the shelf, such as a penetrometer," says the University of California, Berkeley's Chen Li. The research also could lead to a better understanding of the complex environment through which future small robots will move.
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