Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Easing the Trauma of War
  2. Fly on the Wall
  3. A Face's Value
  4. Science Writers' Block?
  5. A Day at the Beach
  6. Author
Alan Turing
Did Alan Turing's 1936 paper 'On Computable Numbers' influence the early history of computer building?

Psychologists are experimenting with virtual reality-based therapy to treat U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq who show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). VR therapy, they find, provides methods for re-creating visual, auditory, and thermal cues to set the stage for treatment of veterans suffering from the disorder, which often causes nightmares and flashbacks. The Associated Press reports the research is being funded by the Office of Naval Research, which in 2005 provided $4 million to several groups to examine how VR technology might help treat PTSD. The disorder affects an estimated 15% to 30% of Iraq war veterans. Clinicians, currently conducting research at military medical centers in Washington, California, Hawaii, and Georgia, can also incorporate a number of smells—body odor, gunpowder, or burning rubber—to enhance the therapy sessions. Recent studies in San Diego involving eight Iraq veterans with PTSD who underwent VR treatment found that six showed reduced symptoms. Said one clinical psychologist: "What this technology does is give us an environment to help facilitate soldiers’ telling of their own story."

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Fly on the Wall

Harvard researchers have created a life-size, robotic fly that may one day be used to spy or detect harmful chemicals. Weighing only 60 milligrams, with a wingspan of three centimeters, the tiny robot’s movements are modeled on those of a real fly. While much work remains on the artificial insect, MIT’s Technology Review reports that DARPA is funding the research in the hope it will lead to stealth surveillance robots for the battlefield and urban environments. "Nature makes the world’s best flyers," says Robert Wood, project leader. Re-creating a fly’s movements in a robot the size of a real fly was difficult because existing manufacturing processes could not be used to make the necessary, durable parts. While other researchers have built robots that mimic insects, this is the first two-winged one built on such a small scale it can take off using the same motions as a real fly.

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A Face’s Value

A computer program that reads human expressions may put a new face on global marketing. Wired reports food and consumer giant Unilever, which had previously used brain scans to demonstrate the degree to which humans love ice cream, hired software developers Theo Gevers and Nicu Sebe from the University of Amsterdam to run marketing tests on its products after reading about their experimental work deciphering Mona Lisa’s smile. Some 300 women in six European countries were videoed at universities, shopping malls, and city centers as they ate five foods: vanilla ice cream, chocolate, cereal bars, yogurt, and apples. Women were chosen because they tend to be more expressive than men. Not surprisingly, ice cream and chocolate produced the happiest expressions. Emotion-recognition software (ERS) creates a 3D face map, pinpointing 12 key trigger areas like eye and mouth corners that change when we smile, frown, or grimace. A face-tracking algorithm then matches the movements to six basic expression patterns. While other ERS programs exist, the Dutch team’s software works in real time on a standard PC and Webcam. The software will not likely replace human observations when it comes to market testing but will help when subjects are not forthcoming, or even aware, of their emotional response.

"One by one, Marshall McLuhan’s wackiest-seeming predictions come true. Forty years ago, he said that modern communications technology would turn the young into tribal primitives who pay attention not to objective `news’ reports but only to what the drums say; that is, rumors. And there you have blogs. The universe of blogs is a universe of rumors, and the tribe likes it that way."—Author Tom Wolfe, discusses blogging, on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.

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Science Writers’ Block?

A new National Science Foundation (NSF) report finds the number of U.S. science and engineering articles in major peer-reviewed journals flattened in the 1990s, after more than two decades of growth, but U.S. influence in world science and technology remains strong. The report Changing U.S. Output of Scientific Articles: 1988–2003 says changes occurred despite continued increase in nearly all U.S. research disciplines and types of institutions. In contrast, Asian nations had large increases in publication numbers, reflecting their growing expertise in science and technology. European Union totals rose as well. Numbers of articles published and their citation in science and engineering journals is a widely accepted indicator of research capability. When paired with trends in patenting, licensing, R&D expenditures, and advanced training of personnel, publication trends may be viewed as a factor driving a nation’s ability to spur technological innovation. Researchers emphasize the change in the U.S. share of the world’s science and engineering articles is not a surprise in view of the growing research capability around the world, nor do they view it as a cause for concern. For more information about the report, see

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A Day at the Beach

By next summer, at a popular beach spot in southern New Jersey, high tide will meet high tech. Visitors will wear wristbands that automatically debit their bank accounts or bill their credit cards to pay for beach access, food, and parking. Garbage cans, equipped with solar-powered sensors, will email cleanup crews when they are three-quarters full to indicate it’s time to empty them. Beach employees, meanwhile, will scan the sands with handheld devices and instantly know who didn’t pay. While there are almost 20 coastal municipalities in the U.S. with wireless Internet systems, none will boast the kinds of features on tap for Ocean City, NJ. The Associated Press reports the $3 million project will combine Wi-Fi technology with RFID tracking devices that may ultimately generate $14 million in revenue for the area over the first five years alone. Parents will have the ability to link their wristbands to their children’s; should a child pass an electronic sensor at the entrance or exit to the boardwalk without the "linked" adult in tow, a text message would be sent instantly to the parent or guardian’s cell phone. With all this new technology, beach access fees—$5 per day, $10 per week, $20 per summer—will remain status quo.

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