Welcome to the August 22, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
New Era in Safety When Cars Talk to One Another
The New York Times (08/20/14) Aaron M. Kessler
The U.S. Department of Transportation this week announced a plan to eventually require that vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications systems be installed in all U.S. cars and trucks. V2V systems are composed of transmitters that send and receive information such as speed, direction, and location to one another, which can be translated into alarms and advice on a driver's dashboard. For example, if a car unexpectedly brakes hard several vehicles ahead of a driver, an alarm could sound letting them know they also need to break to avoid a collision. V2V systems currently are being developed in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, along with several automakers, is running a pilot program on V2V systems that could be installed in any vehicle on the road today. The systems, installed in about 3,000 vehicles being driven along 70 miles of roadway, also communicate with infrastructure such as streetlights, so that when a car approaches a green light, the system informs the driver how many seconds they have left before the light changes. Car makers see such systems as the future and are hiring mathematicians and computer scientists to help design and implement them.
Enabling a New Future for Cloud Computing
National Science Foundation (08/20/14) Aaron Dubrow
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Chameleon and CloudLab, two $10-million projects for creating cloud computing testbeds that will enable the academic research community to develop and experiment with novel cloud architectures and pursue new, architecturally-enabled applications of cloud computing. "Just as NSFNet laid some of the foundations for the current Internet, we expect that the NSFCloud program will revolutionize the science and engineering for cloud computing," says Suzi Iacono, acting head of NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. Chameleon is a large-scale, reconfigurable experimental environment for cloud research, co-located at the University of Chicago and the University of Texas at Austin. The system consists of 650 cloud nodes with five petabytes of storage, enabling researchers to configure slices of Chameleon as custom clouds using pre-defined or custom software to test the efficiency and usability of different cloud architectures on a range of problems. CloudLab is a large-scale distributed infrastructure based at the University of Utah, Clemson University, and the University of Wisconsin, which researchers will use to construct many different types of clouds. Each site will be equipped with unique hardware, architecture, and storage features, and will connect to the others via 100 gigabit-per-second connections on Internet2's advanced platform.
Antivirus Works Too Well, Gripe Cybercops
The Wall Street Journal (08/20/14) Danny Yadron
Internal documents leaked by activists earlier this month show police clients from several nations complaining to German company FinFisher GmbH, which sells spyware to government clients, that their products were being thwarted by antivirus programs. A Pakistani client complains in the documents that antivirus software was able to block his agency's efforts to spy with FinFisher's products, a complaint echoed by a Qatari agency in another document. The documents also show FinFisher representatives advised an Estonian agency that a product enabling users to steal usernames, passwords, and documents using a USB flashdrive might not be able to bypass certain antivirus software. The world of cyberspying by police and other government agencies is a shadowy one and the companies that sell products for this purpose are often very secretive. One such company is Italy-based Hacking Team, which, although none of its products are known to be used by U.S. agencies, is a fixture at U.S. police trade shows and boasts a U.S. headquartered in Annapolis, MD. "A lot of people rely on antivirus for protection against cybercriminals," says Morgan Marquis-Boire, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab. "You have the people we pay to protect us from very real crime trying to prevent this from working properly. That is somewhat concerning."
Rethinking CAD: New Design Paradigms in the Age of 3D Printing
CCC Blog (08/20/14) Ann Drobnis
The future of computer-aided design (CAD) tools, in light of recent developments in three-dimensional printing and additive manufacturing, was the focus of a recent workshop by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Information Science and Technology group. Industrial and academic experts from manufacturing and mechanical design fields noted most CAD tools provide limited or no integrated models of physical and material properties to designers. Panel members also said current tools are very limited in terms of their ability to capture and make use of design requirements in such a way that they become testable during the design process. Moreover, it was clear to all participants that the exploration of design spaces requires automated or semi-automated synthesis. The convened experts agreed on the need for the ability of design languages that communicate function, requirements, and constraints in a computer-interpretable manner. Such specifications would facilitate automated testing/assessment of design requirements and specifications and automated design generation and optimization, such as tools that could suggest design optimal geometries, materials, and structures. Automated design and testing requires more information than is currently supplied to CAD tools, and the experts agreed that better, more natural interfaces are needed to make it possible to express this information easily and efficiently.
Delivery by Drone
MIT News (08/21/14) Jennifer Chu
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an algorithm that enables a drone to monitor aspects of its "health" in real time, helping it to predict its fuel level and the condition of its propellers, cameras, and other sensors throughout a mission. The researchers also have developed a method for a drone to efficiently compute its possible future locations offline, before it takes off. The method simplifies all of the potential routes a drone may take to reach a destination without colliding with obstacles. During simulations, the researchers found their drones delivered as many packages as those that lacked health-monitoring algorithms, but with far fewer failures and breakdowns. "Interestingly, in our simulations, we found that, even in harsh environments, out of 100 drones, we only had a few failures," says MIT researcher Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi. The algorithms are based on the Markov Decision Process (MDP), a sequential decision-making framework that resembles a "tree" of possible actions. Although MDP works reasonably well in environments with perfect measurements, in real-life scenarios such sequential reasoning is less reliable. Therefore, the researchers focused on the Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes, an approach that generates a similar tree of possibilities in which each node represents a probability distribution.
The Internet Was Delivered to the Masses; Parallel Computing Is Not Far Behind
Virginia Tech News (08/21/14)
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) professor Wu Feng has been a leader in the field of parallel computing, especially in relation to the field of biomedicine. In the mid-2000s, Feng worked on a multi-institutional project to combine the capabilities of supercomputers at six U.S. institutions in an early example of parallel computing in the cloud. Feng recently has brought together funding from a wide range of sources, including the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health, to pursue research into ways of making the power of parallel computing more readily available to everyone. He says this has become increasingly important as the rate at which data is being generated dramatically outstrips the pace of advances in computing power. Feng says to handle the vast and ever-growing amounts of data generated in a number of fields and industries requires access to the power of parallel computing. To that end, Virginia Tech is establishing a new research center: Synergistic Environments for Experimental Computing. The center will focus on multidisciplinary efforts to design new algorithms, software, and hardware focusing on five areas of synergistic computing: the intersection of computer and physical systems, the health and life sciences, business and financial analytics, cybersecurity, and scientific simulation.
U.S., German Researchers Build Android Security Framework
Dark Reading (08/20/14) Kelly Jackson Higgins
Researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the Technical University of Darmstadt's Center for Advanced Security Research have developed Android Security Modules (ASM), an Android framework that enables organizations and users to more easily plug in security tools and enhancements to mobile devices. The researchers say ASM is a modified core Android operating system that can more easily integrate new security features and comprehensively update the mobile platform with new defenses from attacks and privacy threats. Although Android devices have been some of the most targeted devices in recent years, if Google were to implement ASM, Android devices could more easily and widely be augmented with security enhancements and exploit protections, according to the researchers. "The real power of ASM is being a generic, extensible way to enhancing security on smartphones," says NCSU professor William Enck. "I think there's a strong need for this...framework as Android becomes more and more pervasive." ASM works for older devices that are no longer updatable with the newest and most secure operating system. "Android is a platform with many different customers," and the goal is to offer widespread availability of security improvements to it via ASM, Enck says.
A New Wireless Energy Transfer Device Can Charge Any Device Without Using Cables
RUVID Association (08/19/14)
A new device developed at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) can charge mobile phones or laptops without the use of wires. The wireless energy transfer system is designed to use resonators with radial photonic crystals. One acts as an energy transmitter and the other sits on the device that needs to be charged. The resonant coupling phenomenon is created between them, and leads to the charging or recharging of equipment. "This phenomena is produced when a resonant object is moved closer to a second resonant element and both resonance frequencies are equal or quite similar," says Jose Sanchez-Dehesa, a researcher at UPV's Wave Phenomena Group. "This physical proximity produces an energy coupling from the first device, that acts as the source, to the second one, that acts as the charge." The researchers say the device could serve as a power supply system for consumer electronics and also could have industrial applications. The UPV team is still working on the first prototype. UPV's Jorge Carbonell notes although the devices may seem futuristic, "they [could] become universal due to the spread of charging infrastructure in many settings. This technology could follow the same path as Wi-Fi networks."
New Tool Makes Online Personal Data More Transparent
Columbia University (08/18/14) Holly Evarts
Columbia University professors Roxana Geambasu and Augustin Chaintreau, along with Ph.D. student Mathias Lecuyer, have developed XRay, a tool that seeks to reveal what personal data is being mined to craft online advertisements, product recommendations, and special pricing offers. XRay uses experimentation and correlation to determine what user inputs yield what type of outputs. The researchers began by using Gmail to send emails with specific keywords and then analyzed the targeted ads, email offers, and other outputs they yielded. For example, they found subprime loan offers targeted accounts tied with debt and ads for various spiritual groups or products targeted accounts that had sent emails hinting at possible depression. XRay currently works on Gmail, Youtube, and Amazon, but the researchers say they tested it with other online services and found it scales very easily. Geambasu says XRay is a first step toward ensuring greater transparency in how personal data moves around and is used online. The open source tool has been made available to auditors online and Geambasu and Chaintreau will present XRay this week at the USENIX Security conference.
New Virtual Reality Navigation System to Help Diagnose Cognitive Defects
UCSD News (CA) (08/18/14) Tiffany Fox
The onset of dementia can lead to the inability to navigate a neighborhood or building, and a new low-cost, virtual reality-based tool is being developed at the University of California, San Diego's (UCSD) Qualcomm Institute to address the problem. The Virtual Environment Human Navigation Task (VE-HuNT) System project is led by UCSD professor Eduardo Macagno. Users manipulate a computer interface device similar to a steering wheel and gas pedal to navigate a room created in three dimensions; the room is a portable, office-sized version of the Qualcomm Institute's NexCAVE or StarCAVE environments. Subjects perform a series of increasingly difficult navigational tasks, such as finding a colored tile on the floor with and without navigational cues. "The idea is to give an older person a series of tests and see where they fail," Macagno says. "We record how long it takes them, which paths they take." The VE-HuNT system features commercial consumer components and is compact enough to be used in any neurology or clinical facility. The first test of the system will involve 20 to 30 adults in varying stages of cognitive decline and a corresponding number of control subjects. Software based on the Qualcomm Institute's CAVE-CAD software will be developed for the trials, as will an algorithm derived from electro-oculography data recorded synchronously in the StarCAVE.
Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics Supplemented for 21st Century Care Robots
University of Warwick (08/14/14) Peter Dunn
Inspired by the Three Laws of Robotics first described by science fiction author Isaac Asimov in his story "Runaround" and as part of a European Commission (EC) project, University of Warwick philosopher Tom Sorell and University of Birmingham professor Heather Draper have created a set of six values that should be used to governor the behavior of robots created for the care of the elderly. The six values center around the circumstances of the older person in need of support and are designed to be built into the robot's hardware and software. The six proposed values are autonomy, independence, enablement, safety, privacy, and social connectedness. Sorell says just as Asimov's laws influenced one another, with some taking precedence over the others, autonomy should be considered the paramount value for elder care robots. The six values were conceived of as part of the EC ACCOMPANY project, and Sorell and Draper note they will continue to be tweaked in collaboration with engineers.
Google Asks Language Lovers to Help Refine Translate Services
eWeek (08/14/14) Todd R. Weiss
Google has founded the online Translate Community to court volunteers to help it improve the accuracy of its online translation services for the 80 languages it currently supports, says Google Translate program manager Sveta Kelman. She says volunteers will be offered the opportunity to create new translations of words and phrases that need to be added, correct existing translations that could be improved, and grade the accuracy of existing translations via the new Translate user forum. "When you spot a translation that you'd like to edit, click the 'Improve this translation' pencil icon and click 'Contribute' to submit your suggestion to us," Kelman says. "We plan to incorporate your corrections and over time learn your language a little better." A Google FAQ says the Community also will ask volunteers to make contributions to the addition of new languages to the service. "Over time, you'll find more ways to contribute, as well as get more visibility into the impact of your contributions and the activity across the community," Kelman notes. "We will also localize Community pages to support your preferred display language."
Leslie Lamport '60
Technology Review (08/19/14) Joe McGonegal
Leslie Lamport is the most recent recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award, computing's top prize, for his groundbreaking work in distributed computing, which helped lay the foundation for systems that enable computers to work together across space and time despite occasional failures. Lamport developed algorithms and protocols such as logical clocks, which capture chronological and causal relationships in a distributed system, as well as the fault tolerance protocol known as Paxos that is central to the Web. Work published in 1978 by Lamport helped lead to such technologies as search engines, 911 call centers, and air traffic control systems. Lamport earned a B.S. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1960, followed by a Master's degree in 1963 and a Ph.D. in 1972 at Brandeis University. His subsequent computer science career involved such companies as Compass, SRI International, Digital Equipment, and Microsoft. "There's nothing there like Newtonian mechanics or relativity, something in the science sense you'd call a theory," Lamport says. "But in looking at all these little pieces of work I've done, although I didn't create a theory, I did, with the help of others, create a path that other people have since followed--and turned into a superhighway."
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