Google taps face detection technology to address Street View privacy concerns

Google is piloting face-blurring technology for its Street View service in response to privacy issues raised concerning the program’s “all-seeing” digital camera eye, CNet News Blog reports. Specifically, the Street View application enables users to view dozens of U.S. cities from a driver's perspective. The latest face detection technology uses a computer algorithm to scour Google's image database for faces and then blurs them, according to officials. Announced on the company’s LatLong blog, Google has launched the technology in Manhattan, though officials expect it to soon roll out more broadly. After years of development, CNet notes that face detection is “finally arriving in basic form in real-world applications,” such as in digital cameras that “use it to track and properly expose subjects or take a picture only when subjects are smiling” (Shankland, CNet News Blog, 5/13/08).

Proliferation of ‘widgets’ may lead software developers to shift focus

Government Computer News on Monday reported that the software industry is experiencing “a sea change” as more casual users develop small, disposable applications called “widgets.” Commenting on this sea change, Todd Fast, a chief Java architect at Sun Microsystems, said that software engineers may begin spending less time writing end-user applications and enhance efforts to build platforms that less experienced or even nonprogrammers can use to create their own widgets. According to GCN, “he noted the marked contrast between the styles of development: Enterprise software developments tend to be highly organized, relying on complicated integrated developer environments, formal code review, versioning control software and well-thought-out architectures,” but widgets are more often “built off-the-cuff using scripting languages such as JavaScript and PHP with graphical user interfaces supplied by companies like Yahoo and Google” and relying on Web-based platforms such as the Facebook, Wiki software and others. Ultimately, Fast postulates that, in the future, seasoned engineers may focus their efforts on building more effective platforms for nonprogrammers (Jackson, GCN, 5/12/08).

New online social network targets ‘hackers’

Hackers now have their own high-profile "ethical hacking" social network, Techworld.com reports. Backed by GnuCitizen, the network, called House of Hackers, has enrolled more than 1,000 members since its recent launch, according to the site. Officials note that the network is built on Ning, which enables users to establish ad-hoc social networks and create customized add-ons using the Google-backed Open Social API. According to Techworld, GnuCitizen created the network to promote collaboration among security researchers, dubbed as “hackers” in the complementary sense, the site's founders says. He adds that “the network is designed to enable its members to exchange ideas with each other, communicate, form groups, elite circles and tiger/red teams, conglomerate around projects and participate in a hacker recruitment market.” Officials also note that group creation tool on the network may be useful for setting up ad-hoc penetration testing teams, adding that organizers could use the site's events features to test out planned events (Broersma, Techworld.com/PC World, 5/12/08).

NASA, JAXA to conduct sonic boom research

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to partner with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for research on sonic boom modeling, United Press International reports. According to NASA, sonic boom modeling is necessary to help the next generation of supersonic aircraft fly over land quietly enough to avoid significantly disturbing the public. NASA adds that such a vehicle would be able to travel from Los Angeles to Tokyo in roughly two hours, flying at twice the speed of sound or nearly 1,540 miles per hour. Moreover, the two agencies also plan to “explore the possibility of further collaboration in aeronautics research and development, including the field of supersonic transport technology and possibly including JAXA's Silent Supersonic Technology Demonstration Project,” according to UPI (UPI, 5/12/08).

UK nanotechnology research aims to boost low-energy LEDs

A nano-electronics researcher in the University of Glasgow is leading a project to make the very energy-efficient LEDs give off more light, The Guardian reports. According to The Guardian, 70 percent of its energy is converted to light, but just 20 percent of that light escapes because a high refractive index at the LED-air interface causes the light to reflect directly back inside. The research team, however, has found that more light can be extracted by making a series of holes on the surface of the LED. Once the lead researcher can scale up his hole-making process, bright low-energy LED light bulbs for the home will likely hit the market. This BERR (DTI)-funded technology project is being conducted with the Institute of Photonics, University of Strathclyde, Mesophotonics Ltd, and Sharp Laboratories of Europe. The article goes on to explain the size of the minute holes, the process by which they yield more light, and the various implications for the home and electronics (Pollitt, The Guardian, 5/8/08).

Telemedicine may offer cost-effective alternative to ED care, study says

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center recently released a study suggesting that telemedicine is a cost-effective alternative to more than one-fourth of all pediatric emergency department (ED) visits, HealthDay reports. Presented last week at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, the study includes data on 22,000 pediatric ED visits from 2006. The researchers ultimately determined that nearly 28 percent of pediatric visits involved issues that are almost always easily managed through telemedicine, such as sore throats and ear infections. Researchers classified other visits, meanwhile, as problems that are beyond the scope of telemedicine or those that could generally but not always be treated through telemedicine, such as asthma attacks. Based on targeted tests, the researchers found that families who were offered access to telemedicine for their children accessed care services 23 percent more than the those who were not, but logged 24 percent fewer ED visits, resulting in annual cost savings of roughly $14 per child. In light of the findings, the lead researcher suggests that increased use of telemedicine would have “not only freed up emergency resources to people who need them more, [but also] would have afforded smaller co-pays for parents and more timely, personalized care” (HealthDay/Washington Post, 5/9/08; University of Rochester Medical Center release, 5/6/08). 

Kenya to build major technology park

The Kenyan government recently announced plans to construct a 5,000-seat technology park at the export promotion zone by 2012, Business Daily Africa reports. Planned as a public-private partnership, the initiative aims to attract large multinational IT investors, as well as other business outsourcing, according to officials. Ultimately, the park will link and provide infrastructure support to small and medium enterprises, as well as educational and research institutions (Mark, Business Daily Africa, 5/13/08).

HP poised to acquire EDS, become major IBM competitor

Hewlett-Packard Co. on Tuesday announced it will purchase Electronic Data Systems Corp. for roughly $12.6 billion, enabling the creation of its own technology-services company that could ultimately challenge IBM, the Associated Press reports. Called HP's biggest deal in six years, the EDS purchase would afford HP more tools to challenge IBM Corp. in the technology services field. The AP notes that HP already has replaced IBM as the world's largest technology company, based on revenue, adding that the merger also will yield more government technology contracts (Liedtke, AP, 5/13/08).

Experts highlight need to bolster VoIP technology security

Some security experts are calling for enhanced VoIP defenses, suggesting it is best to bolster these efforts before hackers and thieves begin exploiting VOIP vulnerabilities, Government Computer News reports. One expert from Georgia Technical Institute suggests that hackers have yet to target Internet telephony largely because e-mail and Web applications already provide well-known and successful avenues for breaching information technology systems and stealing data. He and others note, however, that, as traditional data systems enhance security, VoIP could become more attractive to hackers. One research initiative currently underway: Georgia Tech’s Information Security Center two years ago began studying ways to add security to VoIP protocols and services with help from IBM and Bell South. Other researchers are working on so-called soft credentials that could assign a level of trust to voice calls based on social-networking techniques and circles of trust. Meanwhile, a number of companies are developing products and conducting similar research to better understand vulnerabilities associated with VoIP (Jackson, GCN, 5/5/08).

U.S. 911 emergency system incompatible with modern wireless devices, officials warn

The 911 Industry Alliance last week warned that the United State’s 40-year-old emergency call system is outdated and cannot adequately interact with existing consumer technology, Information Week reports. According to the industry group’s executive director, the current analog-based 911 system is incompatible with newer wireless devices and Internet-based telephone services. In addition, the 911 system cannot process cell phone-issued text messages, photos or other multimedia messages. Alliance officials note that the problem will likely worsen as cell phone and VoIP service usage increases, adding that the “tragedy of the situation is that the technology to fix it is there, but the funding isn’t” (Gardner, Information Week, 5/7/08; Advertiser-Tribune, 5/9/08).

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