Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Federal Red Flag
  2. Proof in Numbers
  3. Bots for What?
  4. Spell Checked
  5. Now You See It
  6. Profiles in Trouble
  7. Author

The CEO of a firm founded by the CIA warns against amassing a huge, unified database that would be available to U.S. government investigators as a way to fight terrorism. Gilman Louie of In-Q-Tel contends it’s "very dangerous to give the government total access" to such data, claiming individual freedom and privacy hang in the balance. The U.S. Public Policy committee of ACM (USACM) has also voiced its concerns regarding the proposed Total Information Awareness plan citing the serious security, privacy, and personal risks of building such databases ( The government is examining two paths toward data surveillance, reports The New York Times. The profiling approach involves collecting mountains of data (such as travel and credit cards) and sorting it by name, buying habits, or travel plans, resulting in watch lists. Louie charges no policy defines how one gets on or off a watch list. The data analysis approach, which he supports, begins with an investigative lead, then uses software to scan for links between a person under investigation and known terrorists. In-Q-Tel was created by the CIA in 1999 to inject new thinking and technology into the agency.

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Proof in Numbers

More European science and technology (S&T) graduates are choosing to live and work in the U.S. where careers and hiring prospects are still considered more promising, reports the U.K.-based engineering recruitment portal The Work Circuit ( The data, from a new European Commission study, shows one in 10 non-U.S. citizens employed in the U.S. high-tech industry was born in the European Union. In fact, some 85,700 S&T researchers came from the EU in 1999. Of these, 28,400 were from the U.K., 25,200 from Germany, and 7,700 from Italy. The study also shows that Europe provides 14% of the overall U.S. S&T work force, a percentage that has likely increased in the past couple of years. China and India still have the highest numbers of Ph.D.s in the U.S., 37,900 and 30,100 respectively. The U.K. is third with 13,100, followed by Taiwan’s 10,900.

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Bots for What?

A year after introducing the latest version of its SDR humanoid robot, Sony is still struggling to determine what consumers might actually want from it and how much they would be willing to pay to own it. The song-and-dance mastered bot, which makes simple human conversation (in Japanese, so far), was expected to hit the market by the end of the year with a price tag close to that of a luxury car. Now Sony is rethinking its marketing strategy; it will likely be a few years before we see the 24-inch, 15-lb. robot for sale. Unlike Honda Motors’ Asimo robot, which was designed as a human helper, Sony wants the SDR to entertain its owners.

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Spell Checked

A new survey from the University of Pittsburgh indicates spell-check functions often weaken stronger writers. In the study, 33 undergraduate students were asked to proofread a one-page business letter. Half the group used MS Word’s spell check; the other half used their own grammatical/spelling talents. Without grammar or spelling software, students with higher SAT verbal scores made an average of five errors compared to 12.3 errors by students with lower scores. Using the software, the high-scoring students made an average of 16 errors reading the same page compared with 17 errors by the low-scoring students. The study also found that while the software helped students find and correct errors within the letter, in some cases it also changed phrases or sentences flagged as grammatically suspicious, even though they were correct. "It’s not a software problem, it’s a behavioral problem," says Dennis Galletta, an IS professor at Pitt’s Katz Business School, explaining that spell-checking software has become so sophisticated that some have come to trust it completely.

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Now You See It

A bad-fitting green raincoat under development at Tokyo University can make a wearer vanish with the click of a button. CS and information physics professor (and raincoat designer) Susumu Tachi told the New York Times the disappearing act is not science fiction but "truly scientific development." In fact, a camera films a scene behind the raincoat and a projector displays it on the front of the garment, which is covered with tiny reflective beads called "retroreflectors." The process creates the illusion of invisibility. Tachi is quick to point out the practical uses of the technology: It could turn a plane into a glass-bottom boat with its floor projecting images of the ground below. Also, images from within the body could be projected onto the skin to assist surgeons. "Adaptive camouflage," as the technology is called in the U.S., has been struggling for years to move forward with potential military applications. But as a former Tokyo U. physics professor explained: "There is a real allergy [in Japan] to anything involving military applications."

Many spammers see the current system that imposes civil fines as just a cost of doing business. We hope we will see some high-profile prosecutions. If someone faces a jail sentence and a major forfeiture of assets, it will serve as a deterrent."
—Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner, on his state’s new law imposing severe felony penalties on spammers.

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Profiles in Trouble

The average computer virus writer is a computer-obsessed male, 14 to 34 years of age, with no love life, according to anti-virus expert Jan Hruska. As CEO of U.K.-based Sophos Plc., an anti-virus solutions provider, Hruska claims that close to 1,000 viruses are created every month by writers intent on targeting new operating systems. It’s a trend he sees growing steadily in the coming years as new OS versions contain different features and new executables that can carry an infection. These virus writers "have a chronic lack of girlfriends, are usually socially inadequate, and are drawn compulsively to write self-replicating codes. It’s a form of digital graffiti to them," Hruska says. The next target of obsession, he predicts, may be Microsoft’s .NET platform.

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