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Volume 7, Issue 755:  Wednesday, February 16, 2005

  • "Laurels for Giving the Internet Its Language"
    New York Times (02/16/05) P. C1; Hafner, Katie

    ACM has named Vinton G. Cerf and Robert E. Kahn winners of the 2004 A.M. Turing Award for their pioneering work on the design and implementation of the Internet's basic communications protocols. The award, widely recognized as the Nobel Prize of computing, honors computer scientists and engineers who created the systems and theoretical foundations that have propelled the IT industry. Cerf and Kahn developed TCP/IP, a format and procedure for transmitting data that enabled computers in diverse environments to communication with each other. This computer networking protocol allows networks to be joined into a network of networks now known as the Internet. "A lot of people are responsible for the success of the Internet," says ACM president David A. Patterson, a professor of computer science at Berkeley. "Vint and Bob are responsible for the vocabulary of the Internet." The announcement marks the first time that work in computer networking has been recognized by the Turing Award. Cerf partly attributes TCP/IP's rapid and broad acceptance to the fact that neither he nor Kahn attempted to patent their invention. "It was an open standard that we would allow anyone to have access to without any constraints," he explains. The award carries a $100,000 prize financially supported by Intel Corp.
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    To read the ACM A.M. Turing Award citations for Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn, visit http://www.acm.org/awards/turing_citations/cerf_kahn.html.

  • "Where Are All the Women?"
    Wired News (02/15/05); Philipkoski, Kristen

    Women in high-tech positions of power are rare in Fortune 500 companies. Many experts agree that companies with high-ranking women are more profitable, and there is statistical evidence to support this view: A Catalyst analysis found that companies with the most women in top management enjoyed a 35 percent higher return on equity and 34 percent higher shareholder payouts than those with the least. "I think almost without question that all of the companies we work with know they are able to offer better technology if they have a more diverse group of people," reports Anita Borg Institute CEO Telle Whitney. On the other hand, an earlier Catalyst study estimated that 12.4 percent of Fortune 500 company board members were female, while women accounted for a mere 9 percent of high-tech boards. IBM's Carol Kovac says world-changing technologies such as IT and biotechnology could develop in ways that are unappealing to women if females are not equally represented. "We need to foster an environment to encourage women, especially in technology, for their talents to shine through," she argues. Among the factors believed responsible for women's sluggish rise in the ranks of high-tech companies are a female-unfriendly environment, the glass ceiling, and hypotheses about innate differences between genders, which have been fiercely disputed. The recent ouster of Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina also calls attention to Silicon Valley's lack of female role models, though there is nothing to suggest that her firing was gender-related. Nevertheless, Catalyst VP Kara Helander laments that "The departure of Carly is dramatic partly because in one day we lost 12.5 percent of the women in the Fortune 500."
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    For information on ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Adding Semantics to the Web"
    IST Results (02/15/05)

    IST's ESPERONTO project has developed Semantic Web tools that facilitate the upgrading of conventional Web content into machine-readable semantic content and end-user employment of the content. "We developed a knowledge parser that reads texts and finds out what they mean," explains ISOCO research and development director and ESPERONTO project coordinator Dr. Richard Benjamins. ESPERONTO also devised a generic query interface that makes sure that content rendered in any format can be translated and used, as well as a tool that enables the continuous and automatic updating of semantic data. "From the user point of view one result is semantic search with a natural language interface that allows users to search for content based on meaning and not on keywords--it is a question and answer system that provides you with an answer rather than a list of documents," notes Benjamins. The ESPERONTO tools were tested in three scenarios: Two of the test studies focused on augmenting opportunities for research funding available on a portal coordinated by the Catalan regional government in Spain, and on supplying information compiling services in the pharmaceutical industry to find potential new uses for current drugs and theorize about new treatments for unfulfilled medical requirements. The third case study used the tools at Madrid's Residencia de Estudiantes to set up a 3D visualization portal that enabled users to navigate historical information to uncover relationships between the various artists who stayed at the Residencia. Benjamins says Semantic Web tools such as those developed by ESPERONTO will support inexpensive, easier access of information to more people, and reduce data overload.
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  • "ACLU Says Patriot Act Diminishing Liberties"
    Central Michigan Life (02/16/05); Fracassa, Danielle

    The ACLU's John Scalise warned that certain provisions of the USA Patriot Act undermine citizen rights guaranteed by the Constitution in his speech at Central Michigan University on Feb. 15. The act, which was passed in late 2001, permits federal agencies to request information from organizations and companies by claiming "reasonable suspicion" rather than probable cause. People targeted by the government on this basis are left unaware of the federal inquiry because the Patriot Act forbids intermediaries from talking about the disclosure of information. Scalise, who chairs the ACLU's Central Michigan branch, called this process an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment and the rights of citizens' freedom of speech. He noted that the Patriot Act also allows email information to be collected by letting the government acquire addresses and subject lines, again on the grounds of reasonable suspicion. Scalise pointed to unannounced last-minute revisions, as well as the act's rapid passage by Congress without intense scrutiny by lawmakers, as further evidence of the law's unconstitutionality.
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  • "Valley's Global Rivals Gaining"
    SiliconValley.com (02/15/05); Schoenberger, Karl

    A Feb. 15 report from the AeA (formerly the American Electronics Association) warns that the country's technological leadership is in jeopardy as overseas competitors make gains in manufacturing and innovation, while nations such as India and China have overtaken America in terms of the number of skilled engineers they are producing. Factors the AeA deems responsible for the situation include insufficient training in math and science in kindergarten through 12th grade; declines in university-level computer science course enrollments; reduced federal funding for research and development; and restrictive immigration laws preventing skilled foreigners from entering the United States. Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group President Carl Guardino says the AeA report illustrates the need to improve science education so that Silicon Valley companies can compete against both overseas and domestic rivals. California Science Teachers Association director Christine Bertrand says funding for math and science education is an especially critical area, and criticizes her state's science-preparation program for de-emphasizing critical thinking in favor of rote memorization and inflexible testing. AeA President William Archey stresses a need to make science and engineering more appealing and "cool" for U.S. undergrads. The National Science Foundation maintains that the number of graduates receiving advanced engineering degrees at U.S. institutions is not declining, while Ronil Hira with the Rochester Institute of Technology says the business community has disputed such claims. He says, "The market has picked up, but there's a lot of idle engineers out there."
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  • "White House Eyes NSA for Network 'Traffic Cop'"
    Associated Press (02/15/05); Bridis, Ted

    The White House is debating whether the responsibility of being "traffic cop" for government computer networks that route homeland security data and other sensitive information across federal agencies should fall to the National Security Agency (NSA), reports a senior NSA official. NSA information assurance director Daniel Wolf will deliver a speech at the RSA technology conference on Feb. 16 in which he is expected to elaborate on what role his agency could play in this effort. NSA currently helps shield systems determined to be essential to national security, and Wolf cautioned that the acceleration of federal initiatives to share security data across agencies means that vulnerabilities within one department could be exploited by intruders to hack into the whole network. Experts such as Cyber Security Industry Alliance director Paul Kurtz are impressed by NSA's information security programs, and they believe that U.S. infrastructure would be significantly fortified if the NSA is given this new responsibility. The NSA and the Homeland Security Department have received a congressional mandate to examine the architecture and policies of computers for sharing homeland security data. It remains vague how private companies that own and run critical government systems would be affected by the NSA's new role, though Wolf assured that the agency's authority over private systems would not be expanded.
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  • "Linux License Overhaul--Don't Hold Your Breath"
    CNet (02/14/05); Shankland, Stephen

    Revamping the General Public License (GPL) that governs the open-source Linux operating system promises to be an uphill climb, with Free Software Foundation legal counsel Eben Moglen not expecting the overhaul to be completed any earlier than 2006. Reaching a unified consensus on the GPL update will be a tough proposition, given the huge number of constituents the license has attracted around the world. The GPL modernization effort attempts to address such issues as rampant software patenting, Internet-accessible software services, and computers that will only run cryptographically signed software. Also driving the update is the need to clearly indicate when similarities between GPL and non-GPL code dictate that a GPL revision requires the other package to also be regulated by GPL; the debate has been traditionally defined by whether fixed "static" links or more off-the-cuff "dynamic" links connect a software component, but the interaction of different software modules via Web services technologies has rendered that debate archaic. Licensing issues are also playing a greater role at this week's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. Microsoft is the most vocal critic of GPL and claims it cannot use the current license because of restrictions. Sun Microsystems President Jonathan Schwartz notes, "If people want to use the GPL and integrate with it, they have to adopt the proprietary license called the GPL." Sun's strategy is to issue its own Unix modification, Solaris, under the Community Development and Distribution License, which allows the software's open-source elements to be tightly coupled to other proprietary elements.
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  • "A New Model Army Soldier Rolls Closer to the Battlefield"
    New York Times (02/16/05) P. A1; Weiner, Tim

    The Pentagon expects robots to comprise a substantial portion of the U.S. armed forces as the technology grows more sophisticated and automated. Pentagon officials and military contractors say the ultimate goal is to make warfare unmanned and bloodless, or keep casualties light and strategists efficient by automating as many boring, complex, or dangerous jobs as possible. Robots are currently being used in the Middle East to locate and dispose of bombs, guard weapons depots, and scout caves, but by April an armed, laptop-controlled version of the bomb disposal robot will be deployed in Baghdad. Military robots currently under development are split into five varieties: Hunter-killers, unmanned aerial drones, ground-based reconnaissance units, equipment transportation devices, and units that can launch drones for various missions. All five types of machines need reliable perception to be effective, and Congress has mandated that a third of the military's strike aircraft and a third of its ground vehicles be automated within 10 years. A major concern in the development of robot soldiers is determining if they can ever be trusted to accurately tell the difference between friends and enemies, especially in combat situations where such distinctions mean life or death. Critics such as Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy warn that advances in machine intelligence could result in an erosion of human decision-making, which could lead to disastrous consequences--and not just on the battlefield. "Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently," Joy writes in Wired magazine. Still, robot soldiers appear inevitable, given their ability to save lives and lower costs; the Pentagon says the median lifetime cost of a solider is now about $4 million, while robot soldiers could cost far less.
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  • "Augmented Reality: Another (Virtual) Brick in the Wall"
    Technology Review (02/15/05); Delio, Michelle

    Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology's Augmented Environments Lab have crafted an augmented reality (AR) tour of an Atlanta cemetery that combines elements of both linear and random access audio tours. AR typically involves users wearing display screens that superimpose data over their point of view as they roam throughout the environment; participants in the cemetery tour can access the "voices" of the dead--audio commentary taken from historical documents--when approaching specific graves. The researchers plan to enhance the tour with imagery that users will view via head-mounted displays, and which will probably be triggered by radio frequency identification tags affixed to the graves. "The challenge is to create a seamless interface between the digital information, each individual user, and the physical environment," notes Augmented Environments Lab director Blair MacIntyre. A great deal of information needs to be bundled within the AR application so that content appears to respond intuitively to the user's interests and reactions. A key issue for AR developers is perfectly aligning real and virtual objects, a goal MacIntyre has rejected in favor of developing usable systems. He expects AR to be implemented for entertainment purposes before practical military, industrial, or medical applications are rolled out. MacIntyre envisions AR as an art medium that anyone can use, and his team's Designers Augmented Reality Toolkit (DART) allows people to build and deploy their own AR experiences and applications. Researchers at Denmark's Aarhaus University are employing DART in the ARDressCode project, a system that allows users to virtually choose and try on clothing with an enhanced mirror. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech's Everyday Computing lab is working on an AR interface that enables office workers to use the walls of their cubicles as memory aids.
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  • "IT Execs Swarm Capitol Hill"
    InternetNews.com (02/11/05); Mark, Roy

    The nation's capital was a beehive of dialogue between IT executives and congressional legislators at a series of hearings, trade shows, and other events this past week. The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet heard testimony from the CEOs of Motorola, Lucent, Alcatel, and others on why regulation of IP-based networks and services should be loose, while House and Senate staffers attended a Congressional Internet Caucus-hosted briefing on key technology issues. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) brought together the CTOs of some top IT industry firms and government officials at a series of high-level meetings on Feb. 10; officials included e-government chief Karen Evans, Commerce Department undersecretary of technology Phil Bond, and White House chief science administrator John Marburger. "The technologists are the leading creative minds, and they are able to provide insights on what it takes to bring new products to market," said BSA's Diane Smiroldo, while Entrust technology VP Chris Voice said the goal was to once again stress IT's economic impact. Among CTOs' priorities is a new concentration on cybersecurity, the improvement of e-government options and federal information systems, and federally underwritten R&D. RSA VP Burt Kaliski noted that CTOs have started to realize that security shortcomings are undermining consumer confidence. Another event that drew many Capitol Hill staff members was a small tech trade show where Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) unveiled his e-Eleven agenda, which includes such items as bolstering the CAN SPAM Act, anti-spyware legislation, and instituting reforms in Universal Service, ICANN, and spectrum management. "Security, safety, privacy--all these things still face us," Burns remarked.

  • "Just How Exciting Is It?"
    Wired News (02/16/05); Hooper, Rowan

    U.K. Royal College of Art research fellow Brendan Walker aims to construct a Thrill Measuring Device that can gauge exciting experiences and produce an industry-standard measure that can be applied to the real-time refinement of such experiences. Potential areas of application include amusement park rides and computer gaming. Walker laid the groundwork for the Thrill Measuring Device with an auto-portrait machine that captures the peak of the thrill sensation using the galvanic skin response to measure increases in skin conductivity. He reports that system latency was dramatically lowered through the employment of an algorithm programmed to identify the beginning of a peak in arousal. Media Lab Europe scientist James Condron helped Walker adapt the auto-portrait machine's core thrill-detection hardware. The research fellow believes that by incorporating a Thrill Measuring Device into a game console, "the game designer would be in control of vital personal psychological information which could be used to tailor the game in real time." The Thrill Measuring Device is just one element of Walker's Chromo11 grand thrill project. Affective computing researcher Phoebe Sengers, who contributed to a 2003 National Resources Council report covering IT and creative practices, notes that the study concluded "that the arts and design are currently so engaged with IT that they are pushing computer science in terms of technology development and conceptualization."
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  • "To Start Up Here, Companies Hire Over There"
    USA Today (02/11/05) P. 1B; Hopkins, Jim

    High-tech startups are joining mature multinational companies in adding jobs overseas. However, unlike multinationals, which are moving existing jobs in the United States to other countries around the world, startups are creating jobs abroad that were never here to begin with. According to a USA Today study of 106 software firms that received money last year from venture capitalists, nearly 40 percent hired engineers, marketers, analysts, and others for jobs in India and other nations abroad, and they created nearly 900 jobs overseas. The development has raised some concerns because startups have become the biggest generator of tech jobs, as multinational tech firms consolidate and export jobs. Venture capital firms are encouraging startups to create jobs overseas as a way to keep costs low, by using cheap labor. All over the U.S. weak signs for job growth have prompted lawmakers to push for anti-offshoring legislation, and at least 40 states debated the issue last year. However, the bills primarily addressed the trend in which companies lay off white collar workers in the United States, and then find replacements overseas to perform the job for less money. None of the bills focused on the micro-multinationals' practice of bypassing the United States from the get-go. USA Today's study did find that companies offshoring jobs are still creating work in the U.S., and many of those positions are for high-level positions such as CEOs and senior developers. Moreover, Economy.com consultant Mark Zandi says that offshoring can lead to stronger companies, more profits, and thus more jobs back home. Meanwhile, other analysts say offshoring is an irreversible trend that reflects a mature global economy.
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  • "Software Validation Testing Tool Gains Plaudits"
    IST Results (02/16/05)

    The IST-funded MATELO project has developed MaTeLo, a software validation testing tool that project coordinator Patrick Leserf claims can trim about 20 percent off validation's portion of the software development effort. The tool also lets developers improve software quality by enabling them to identify nearly all the bugs in a target system. Leserf says the Markov chain of statistical testing forms the basis of MaTeLo. The tool facilitates the modeling of a system's external behavior, produces and carries out test cases, and examines the results. Automotive, telecom, defense, and aerospace companies, along with French and Swedish universities, contributed to MaTeLo's development, and nearly all project partners are already employing MaTeLo for validation or education. Magneti Marelli's Jacky Guillot reports that MaTeLo has helped replace a 70-page written test plan with a two-page usage model, thus expediting the testing of the company's dashboard software. Thierry Calene with France Telecom R&D praises the tool's ability to calculate time of occurrence of the first default. And Moshe Atter with Israel Aircraft Industries attests that "MaTeLo reduces testing time because it finds the bigger defaults first, and then generates the most tricky scenarios."
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  • "New School of Thought"
    InformationWeek (02/14/05) No. 1026, P. 39; Malykhina, Elena

    Leading schools have started to offer interdisciplinary programs that blend IT studies with high-demand skills and business courses to produce IT professionals who can more effectively function in an environment where business and technological prowess must be applied in equal measure. The Computer Research Association's Taulbee Survey concludes that undergraduate enrollment in U.S. computer science and engineering programs has significantly declined in recent years due to the dot-com meltdown and the growing popularity of offshoring IT work. Professionals cannot survive in the turbulent job market on IT skills alone; they must also be adept problem solvers, communicators, team players, and innovators. For instance, the optimal game industry leader would be skilled in game design, computer engineering, and art, and Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center offers a concentration in all three areas and reinforces the skills students acquire by having them participate in hands-on, real-world projects. One such project is the development of the HazMat Game, a video-game technology for the New York City Fire Department that can be used to train first responders in events involving dangerous materials or weapons of mass destruction. Entertainment Technology Center co-director Donald Marinelli says the increasing use of digital media calls for professionals with both technology and storytelling skills. Meanwhile, Stanford University's Technology Ventures Program features in-class student collaboration with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, and summer mentorships. "Having the classroom and real-world experience with business and management, in addition to the technical side of the computer-science degree, means that there are a lot more options [for] jobs," notes Stanford student Steve Garrity.
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  • "Do the Locomotion"
    New Scientist (02/12/05) Vol. 185, No. 2486, P. 34; Fox, Douglas

    The two-wheeled Segway scooter may not have lived up to its hype as a product that would revolutionize transportation, but the vehicle's gyroscopic balance represents a critical step forward for robot technology. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency snapped up a fleet of Segways to see if their gyroscope technology could be adapted for robots, and this effort has yielded hybrid systems that maintain their sense of balance by continuously rolling their wheels backwards or forwards. Examples include a laser rangefinder-equipped Georgia Institute of Technology Segway robot that adjusts its speed to contend with hazards by scanning and measuring the ground in quarter-second intervals; a UCLA bot that uses a rangefinder to map urban terrain such as collapsed buildings; and an MIT robot outfitted with limbs that can be taught to grip doorknobs and other objects. MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab director Rodney Brooks observes that as the desire for robots that can function in human environments grows, "You need something tall and skinny, and to be tall and skinny you need to balance." Another Segway-adapted robot is Darwin, a machine programmed to recognize, chase down, and kick a soccer ball using a neural network "brain" that acquires skills by being stimulated with the digital equivalent of dopamine every time it performs the correct series of actions. The penetration of robots into human environments will require a certain element of mostly non-verbal human-robot interaction; MIT Ph.D. student Jessica Banks notes that robots should be engineered to interact with people as naturally as humans interact with pets. In May, Atlanta will play host to the annual RoboCup contest, wherein teams comprised of both Segway robots and human-driven Segways will compete in a soccer tournament.

  • "Service-Oriented Computing: Key Concepts and Principles"
    Internet Computing (02/05) Vol. 9, No. 1, P. 75; Huhns, Michael N.; Singh, Munindar P.

    Service-oriented architectures (SOAs) tackle the basic challenges of open systems by enabling efficient operation and supporting consistency in the presence of autonomous and heterogeneous components, and service-oriented computing (SOC) provides a standardized approach for building on conventional information technology, allowing tools to expedite the practical development of large-scale systems. Web services are the foundation of an SOA, and their architecture is of vital importance to SOC, since many of the major techniques for SOC elements (databases, software design, transactions, etc.) are already well understood by themselves. The coexistence of multiple SOAs is possible, as long as they support core SOC components such as loose coupling, implementation neutrality, persistence, flexible configurability, granularity, and teams. SOC delivers interoperability and coherence between systems and applications both inside and outside the enterprise, throughout the infrastructure, and across software components. The dissimilarity between SOAs and conventional architectures extends to development methodology. In a service-oriented scheme, a mix of service discovery, selection, and engagement supplants code generation. Service composition is essential, as it allows new value to be extracted from existing components. The viability of large-scale SOAs depends on the precise, structured specification of services so that the registry can certify given providers and establish trust among the registry's users, write University of South Carolina computer science and engineering professor Michael N. Huhns and North Carolina State University computer science professor Munindar P. Singh.
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  • "Economics, Computer Science, and Policy"
    Issues in Science and Technology (02/05) Vol. 21, No. 2, P. 37; Kearns, Michael

    University of Pennsylvania computer information science professor Michael Kearns observes that computer science is a major point of interaction between network and economic approaches to scientific and social problems, and this convergence can greatly influence matters of policy. "One of the drivers of this exchange has been the realization that many aspects of our most important information networks...might be better understood, managed, and improved when viewed as economic systems rather than as purely technical ones," he explains. The Internet's decentralized structure and administration runs parallel to economic behavior, while research suggests that many of the Net's ills could be more effectively treated by viewing the problems in economic rather than technological terms. For example, it is reasonable to partially attribute the spam explosion to email's emergence as a nearly free public resource with unlimited usage, and whose return on investment for marketers is beneficial even when take rates for products and services is small. This reasoning also presents an economic solution in taxing spam to the point that it becomes unprofitable without undermining email's value to non-spammers. Kearns notes that the exchange of ideas between economics and computer scientists is a two-way street, with some economists starting to tackle old and new problems with computer science techniques and principles. The author writes that "from a computational perspective...We can now undertake the construction and algorithmic manipulation of numerical economic models whose complexity greatly exceeds those one could have contemplated a decade ago." Furthermore, computer science's analytical and mathematical techniques can be used to study how the expected outcome in the economic models could be affected by their structure.

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