Welcome to the June 13, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
FCC Unveils 'New Regulatory Paradigm' for Defeating Hackers
The Washington Post (06/12/14) Brian Fung
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working to expand its role among federal agencies charged with protecting the country's networks from cyberattacks. The FCC recently unveiled a new regulatory model designed to help phone companies and other telecommunications firms defend themselves from malicious hackers. As part of the plan, telecommunications companies are being asked to voluntarily strengthen their networks and to develop a system for ensuring the work is done on schedule. In addition, the FCC is studying how to unite companies to research new technologies to thwart hackers and to study the state of the U.S. cybersecurity workforce. "Companies large and small within the communications sector must implement privacy-protective mechanisms to report cyberthreats to each other and, where necessary, to government authorities," says FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. If these companies fail to strengthen their protections for infrastructure and customer data, the U.S. economy could grind to a halt, according to national security officials. The FCC's new procedure also calls on companies to voluntarily commit to adopting cybersecurity safeguards and taking self-designed corrective measures when those standards are not met. "It is crucial that companies develop methodologies that give them a meaningful understanding of their risk exposure and risk management posture that can be communicated internally and externally," Wheeler says.
Which Country Has the World's Best Coders? There's an Axe for That
ZDNet (06/11/14) Eeva Haaramo
A team of three Polish programmers called "The Need for C" won the Hello World Open 2014, a worldwide programming competition that aims to change the public perception of coding and promote its practice. "The perception of [coding] within the general public is still outdated," says event organizer Ville Valtonen. "We want to update the image of a stereotypical coder and inspire young people to start coding." The competition started with qualifying rounds of more than 4,000 programmers from 92 countries. The teams had to create a virtual race car with artificial intelligence so it could race autonomously against opponents and varying track conditions. In addition to the Polish team, seven other teams qualified for the final round. "We want to make coders the role models that are worth looking up to," Valtonen says. Ilkka Paananen, CEO of game developer Supercell, one of the event's main organizers along with digital services firm Reaktor, also sees the need to promote coding in order to boost its overall appreciation. "All innovative digital services of the future will be built on top of great code," Paananen says. "We need to start celebrating the superstars of this craft more widely, as these skills are so fundamental to our society going forward."
Intelligence Too Big for a Single Machine
The New York Times (06/11/14) Steve Lohr
Although computer scientists once believed they needed a supercomputer to run artificial intelligence operations, researchers today are turning to the cloud. This shift is attributable to a rising volume of various types of data, advances in software to discover data patterns, and new data processing, storage, and communication technologies. A frontrunner in this trend, Google demonstrated the success of cloud technology for data-driven artificial intelligence in areas such as language translation. California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology founding director Larry Smarr says a global network is emerging that will be the equivalent of a "planetary computer" that will enable functions such as highly personalized assistance. Users will interface with this personal assistant software on smartphones or wearable devices, but it will be cloud-based, Smarr says. Google research fellow Jeff Dean is using the company's massive cloud data centers to mobilize the computational power necessary to apply artificial intelligence to computer vision and understanding language. In addition, IBM is turning its Watson supercomputer into a cognitive system that will use the cloud to serve as an adviser to mainstream industries. "Data is fundamentally distributed today, so you have to be global to leverage information wherever it is," says IBM cognitive computing research director Guruduth S. Banavar. "Cloud is the delivery mechanism."
Bing, Algorithms Claim United States Is Doomed in World Cup
PC World (06/11/14) Mark Hachman
Microsoft's Bing is collecting a wide range of factors to build an algorithm that can predict the results of the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. "For the tournament, our models evaluate the strength of each team through a variety of factors, such as previous win/loss/tie record in qualification matches and other international competitions and margin of victory in these contests, adjusted for location, since home field advantage is a known bias," the Bing team wrote on its website. "Further adjustments are made related to other factors which give one team advantages over another, such as home field (for Brazil) or proximity (South American teams), playing surface (hybrid grass), game-time weather conditions, and other such factors." Bing's predictions indicate the United States will not make it out of the group stage, and will not record a single point in the process. Other predictive models, such as FiveThirtyEight, Bloomberg, and SBNation, also predict the U.S. team will exit the tournament in the group stage.
Guarding Against 'Carmageddon' Cyberattacks
Vanderbilt University (06/11/14) David Salisbury
Security researchers at Vanderbilt University's Institute of Software Integrated Systems (ISIS), the University of California, Berkeley, and the Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology's Connected Corridors project are working on the Smart Roads Cyber-Physical Systems project. The researchers are developing tools and technologies to unite aspects of major traffic corridors and operate them as an integrated system. The first pilot project will be implemented on a multi-modal, heavily congested corridor in southern California and will include freeway ramp meters and arterial signal systems that work together. The researchers say they used advanced computational methods to examine how different types of cyberattacks affect computer networks, and they are modifying the methods so they work with traffic control systems. "The immediate object of our project is to identify the characteristics of such attacks so that system operators can recognize them when they happen and take the effective steps required to counteract them," says ISIS team leader Gabor Karsai. "The longer-term goal is to develop algorithms that can automatically detect these intrusions and nip them in the bud." The researchers also have developed a video scenario depicting how such an attack could take place, the effect it would have on the freeway, and the tools traffic system operators could use to identify the attack, reduce its impact, and return traffic flow to normal levels.
NASA Challenge Tests Autonomous Robots
Computerworld (06/11/14) Sharon Gaudin
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Sample Return Robot Challenge, which is being held this week at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, involves autonomous robots searching for objects in a field. The technology could be used to help build improved robots for use on Mars or asteroids. The 18 teams participating in the competition developed robots that can work their way around a field the size of 1.5 football fields, while searching for and collecting various objects without any guidance from humans or Global Positioning Systems. The teams are told what some of the objects are in advance so they can program the robot to search for those objects. However, the teams receive more points if their robots can find objects they have not been told about in advance. In order to find the objects, the researchers programmed the robots to identify objects that look out of place. For example, a robot should recognize that a pine cone would be normally found in a New England field, but an eight-sided piece of metal would not be naturally found there, so the robot should know to retrieve it. "We've been ecstatic at the progress we've been making over the past few years and can't wait to see what's going to happen this year," says NASA's Sam Ortega.
The Emerging Science of Computational Anthropology
Technology Review (06/10/14)
Microsoft researchers in Beijing are using location-based social networks to study changes in human patterns of behavior in time and space. Using data from a Chinese location-based social network called Jiepang.com, which is similar to Foursquare, the team downloaded more than 1.3 million location check-ins from five major cities in China. Because the data includes the users' hometowns, the researchers could determine whether check-ins took place in a user's own city or elsewhere. The researchers used the training data to learn local and non-local mobility patterns and visit location popularity. They developed an algorithm that predicts a user's next location based on current location and whether the person is local. The most effective results came from analyzing a person's behavior patterns and estimating the extent to which this person resembles a local user, thus creating an indigenization coefficient that helps forecast future mobility patterns. The researchers say their method significantly surpasses the performance of mixed algorithms that use only individual visiting history and location popularity. Beyond helping businesses target travelers or local people, the algorithm could be used to monitor changes in a person's mobility patterns over time, which could help anthropologists study migration and how immigrants assimilate into a local community and contribute to the nascent science of computational anthropology.
Mind-Controlled Exoskeleton to Kick Off World Cup
New Scientist (06/11/14)
A paralyzed young adult using an exoskeleton controlled by his thoughts took the first kick of the World Cup in Thursday's opening ceremony in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The exoskeleton belongs to the Walk Again Project, an international collaboration using technology to overcome paralysis. The suit supports the lower body and is controlled by brain activity detected by a cap of electrodes placed over the head. Brain signals are sent to a computer, which converts them into movement. There is a phenomenal amount of technology within the exoskeleton, says lead robotic engineer Gordon Cheng from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. For example, he says the suit makes use of sensors to feed information about pressure and temperature back to the arms of the user, who still has sensation. The researchers believe this will replicate to some extent the feeling of kicking a ball.
Making a Covert Channel on the Internet
Cornell Chronicle (06/09/14) Bill Steele
Cornell University researchers say they have developed a reliable and powerful method to send messages over the Internet that are undetectable with ordinary technologies. The key is to access the hardware level, where the hidden signal is measured in picoseconds. When a message is sent on the Internet, the computer encodes the data into strings of ones and zeroes and organizes them into packets that contain an address and other identifying information. The network standard is to insert at least 12 idle characters, such as a string of zeroes, between packets. The Cornell researchers found that a message can be concealed in the data stream by varying the length of the idle character streams. For example, making it longer can represent a 1, and making it shorter can represent a 0. The researchers created their covert channel, called Chupja, at the hardware level using a network interface card that enables precise software control over optical signals. Conventional hardware measures interpacket delays in milliseconds, but a Chupja channel varies them by picoseconds, says Cornell professor Hakim Weatherspoon.
Building Momentum for Code Modernization: The Intel Parallel Computing Centers
Scientific Computing (06/09/14) Doug Black
Intel is collaborating with supercomputing organizations worldwide to modernize public domain high-performance computing code, in an effort to enable software to take advantage of advances in parallel supercomputers that could transform society by solving some of modern science's most complex problems. Updating essential scientific applications is a costly and labor-intensive task that academic institutions and government organizations often neglect. To remedy this, Intel has established 31 Intel Parallel Computing Centers (IPCC) at academic, government, and private institutions around the world. The IPCCs are improving public domain code and making it accessible to other scientists and engineers. "Reducing simulation times from weeks to days or days to hours, dramatically improves the opportunity to find solutions to society's biggest challenges," says Intel's Bob Burroughs. "Optimizing these essential software programs to take advantage of the parallelism available in current processors and coprocessor will accelerate scientific discovery and enable better engineering--that's the mission of this program." The IPCC at the Georgia Institute of Technology is working on parallel algorithms and software for quantum chemistry and biomolecular simulation that will aid the study of proteins linked to diseases including HIV. Intel plans to continue its code modernization push by establishing two new IPCCs each quarter.
Innovative Millimeter Wave Communications to Be Demonstrated at London Exhibition
University of Bristol News (06/10/14)
University of Bristol researchers have developed wireless data connections that exploit millimeter wave radio spectrum, which are expected to be used in worldwide 5G networks starting in 2020. The researchers say their system transmits data about 50 times faster than today's 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi standard, opening up the possibility of mulit-gigabit data rates to future mobile terminals. The researchers used a newly developed virtual network simulator to show how antenna beam steering supports robust point-to-point connections at up to 400 meters. For 5G mobile access, the researchers will demonstrate multi-gigabit beam forming and mobile tracking at up to 100 meters from the base station. In both examples, beam forming is shown to surmount the harmful effects of blocking trees and buses. "This technology builds on a wealth of knowledge and expertise over the last 25 years in smart antenna systems and an in-depth understanding of radiowave propagation," says Bristol professor Mark Beach. Bristol professor Andrew Nix says "our sophisticated ray-tracing tools have been combined with the university's high-performance computing facilities to enable the rapid analysis of complex millimeter-wave systems."
Using Twitter to Track Flu, Lady Gaga
UCR Today (06/09/14) Sean Nealon
University of California, Riverside (UCR) researchers have launched Health Social Analytics, a website that visualizes data about health-related disorders, drugs, and organizations from Twitter, news stories, and online health forums. "This is a tool that brings the power of social and news big data to your fingertips," says UCR professor Vagelis Hristidis. The site is a health-specific outgrowth of a similar site, Social Predictor, which focuses only on Twitter and news, but has a wider set of topics, including celebrities, food, and real estate. The Health Social Analytics site categorizes keywords as either disorders, drugs, or organizations. After a keyword is selected, the page refreshes and displays a line graph in the center. The site also has a Google map with color-coded numbers showing high concentrations of tweets about the keyword in different parts of the world. Finally, the site is equipped with an interactive graph that resembles a spiderweb with the selected keyword in the center and other words commonly associated with it in tweets.
Technology Using Microwave Heating May Impact Electronics Manufacture
Oregon State University News (06/10/14) David Stauth
Oregon State University (OSU) researchers have demonstrated that a continuous flow reactor can produce high-quality nanoparticles by using microwave-assisted heating, a breakthrough they say could lead to a technological revolution. "This might be the big step that takes continuous flow reactors to large-scale manufacturing," says OSU professor Greg Herman. He says the technology could change everything from the production of cell phones and TVs to counterfeit-proof money. The research indicates microwave heating can be carried out in larger systems at high speeds, and by varying the microwave power, it can precisely control nucleation temperature and the resulting size and shape of particles. "For the applications we have in mind, the control of particle uniformity and size is crucial, and we are also able to reduce material waste," Herman says. "Combining continuous flow with microwave heating could give us the best of both worlds--large, fast reactors with perfectly controlled particle size." The milestone also could save money and create technologies that work better, according to the researchers. They worked with lead selenide nanoparticles, which are especially good for technologies that use taggants, or compounds with specific infrared emissions that can be employed for accurate, instantaneous identification.
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