Thursday, June 30, 2011

Robot - Human Love : Lovotics

By Sebastian Anthony

By harnessing a new sphere of science called “lovotics”, Hooman Samani, an artificial intelligence researcher at the Social Robotics Lab at the National University of Singapore, believes it is possible to engineer love between humans and robots.

Across 11 research papers, Samani has outlined — and begun to develop — an extremely complex artificial intelligence that simulates psychological and biological systems behind human love. To do this, Samani’s robots are equipped with artificial versions of the human “love” hormones — Oxytocin, Dopamine, Seratonin, and Endorphin — that can increase or decrease, depending on their state of love. On a psychological level, by using MRI scans of human brains to mirror the psychology of love, the robots are also equipped with an artificial intelligence that tracks their “affective state”; their level of affection for their human lover.

artificial endocrine system in lovoticsThese two systems combine to create “human” psychological and hormonal states that allow them to exhibit happiness, contentedness, jealousy, disgust, and more. These states are communicated with R2D2-like bleeps and bloops, movements, vibrations, and the color of a ring of LEDs under the robot. Bright yellow lights and fast, whizzy movements show happiness, while pink lights (obviously?) show love and dark yellow with quaking movements show disgust.

Judging by the videos that Samani has uploaded (embedded below), it seems like the only way to increase a robot’s love is by petting it — but honestly, that’s not too far removed from the reality of human-human interactions. Presumably if you refuse to cuddle the robot, it grows testy, and if it sees you interacting with another human — or fiddling with a USB socket on your PC — it becomes jealous.

The ultimate goal, according to the lovotics research team, is to usher in an era of human-robot relationships — and if we can have a meaningful relationship with an online friend or our pet dog, why not a robot? The adoption of robots in the household has been incredibly slow, and as long as my Roomba doesn’t try to hump my leg, lovotics could be exactly what the industry needs.

Hexagonal plate skin gives robots sense of touch

By Darren Quick

Providing robots with sensory inputs is one of the keys to the development of more capable and useful machines. Sight and hearing are the most common senses bestowed upon our mechanical friends (perhaps soon to be foes?), but even taste and smell have got a look in. With the sense of touch so important to human beings, there have also been a number of efforts to give robots the sense of touch so they can better navigate and interact with their environments. The latest attempt to create a touchy feely robot comes from the Technical University Munich (TUM) where researchers have produced small hexagonal plates, which when joined together, form a sensitive skin.

The artificial skin isn't flexible like some previous robotic skin technologies we've seen, but is made up of rigid, five-centimeter square (0.77 sq in), hexagonal circuit board plates. Each small circuit board contains four infrared sensors that detect anything that comes closer than a centimeter (0.39 in) to effectively simulate light touch. Thus, the robot can detect when it runs into an object, and either spontaneously retreat or direct its eyes to examine the object.

But with human skin also conveying other information, such as temperature, shear forces and vibrations, the TUM researchers have also embedded the plates with six temperature sensors and an accelerometer. The researchers say these will give a robot self-perception by allowing it to accurately register the movement of individual limbs to learn which body parts it has moved.

"We try to pack many different sensory modalities into the smallest of spaces," explains Philip Mittendorfer, a scientist who developed the artificial skin at the Institute of Cognitive Systems at TUM. "In addition, it is easy to expand the circuit boards to later include other sensors, for example, pressure."

The plates are arranged in a honeycomb-like, planar structure that is worn by the robot. Although the signals from the sensors are processed centrally, each sensor also serves as a data hub for different sensory elements to ensure that signals can be rerouted if a connection should fail.

So far the researchers have attached 31 sensor modules onto a Bioloid robot to form an incomplete skin and show that the principle works. They have also tested the sensor modules on the curved skin of a robot arm. Both robots reacts to light pats and even people blowing on the skin.

"We will close the skin and generate a prototype which is completely enclosed with these sensors and can interact anew with its environment," says Mittendorfer's supervisor at TUM, Prof. Gordon Cheng.

Rare Charlie Chaplin film fails to sell

Frames from Charlie Chaplin in Zepped The rare film was discovered inside a battered cinema reel tin

A rare Charlie Chaplin film bought for £3.20 on eBay has failed to sell at auction despite being expected to fetch "a significant six-figure sum".

Charlie Chaplin in Zepped, thought to be a propaganda film made in Britain during World War I, is the only known surviving copy.

But the seven-minute 35mm nitrate film reel only attracted one bid, a Bonham's spokesperson said.

It has not yet been decided if the film will be put up for sale again.

"Obviously we're disappointed the film didn't sell, but it's an unusual item and the nature of auctions means these things are always unpredictable," a spokeswoman told the BBC.

Collector Morace Park bought the reel in 2009 because he liked the look of the tin, and then discovered the film inside it.

The footage, recorded in 1916, features a Zeppelin raid over London and is thought to feature some of the earliest-known animation.

German Zeppelin airships attacked Britain during World War I and Bonham's said Zepped was probably designed to defuse the unease caused by the raids.

A footnote in the records from the British Board of Film Classification in 1917 showed the film had been given an export licence.

The beginning of the film also had censorship frames suggesting it may have been sent over to troops based in Egypt.

However the film was never widely distributed, possibly reflecting the sensitivity of the attacks at the time of its release.

Massive botnet 'indestructible,' say researchers

4.5M-strong botnet 'most sophisticated threat today' to Windows PCs
By Gregg Keizer
June 29, 2011 04:19 PM ET

Computerworld - A new and improved botnet that has infected more than four million PCs is "practically indestructible," security researchers say.

"TDL-4," the name for both the bot Trojan that infects machines and the ensuing collection of compromised computers, is "the most sophisticated threat today," said Kaspersky Labs researcher Sergey Golovanov in a detailed analysis Monday.

"[TDL-4] is practically indestructible," Golovanov said.

Others agree.

"I wouldn't say it's perfectly indestructible, but it is pretty much indestructible," said Joe Stewart, director of malware research at Dell SecureWorks and an internationally-known botnet expert, in an interview today. "It does a very good job of maintaining itself."

Golovanov and Stewart based their judgments on a variety of TDL-4's traits, all which make it an extremely tough character to detect, delete, suppress or eradicate.

For one thing, said Golovanov, TDL-4 infects the MBR, or master boot record, of the PC with a rootkit -- malware that hides by subverting the operating system. The master boot record is the first sector -- sector 0 -- of the hard drive, where code is stored to bootstrap the operating system after the computer's BIOS does its start-up checks.

Because TDL-4 installs its rootkit on the MBR, it is invisible to both the operating system and more, importantly, security software designed to sniff out malicious code.

But that's not TDL-4's secret weapon.

What makes the botnet indestructible is the combination of its advanced encryption and the use of a public peer-to-peer (P2P) network for the instructions issued to the malware by command-and-control (C&C) servers.

"The way peer-to-peer is used for TDL-4 will make it extremely hard to take down this botnet," said Roel Schouwenberg, senior malware researcher at Kaspersky, in an email reply Tuesday to follow-up questions. "The TDL guys are doing their utmost not to become the next gang to lose their botnet."

Schouwenberg cited several high-profile botnet take-downs -- which have ranged from a coordinated effort that crippled Conficker last year to 2011's FBI-led take-down of Coreflood -- as the motivation for hackers to develop new ways to keep their armies of hijacked PCs in the field.

"Each time a botnet gets taken down it raises the bar for the next time," noted Schouwenberg. "The truly professional cyber criminals are watching and working on their botnets to make them more resilient against takedowns or takeovers."

TDL-4's makers created their own encryption algorithm, Kaspersky's Golovanov said in his analysis, and the botnet uses the domain names of the C&C servers as the encryption keys.

The botnet also uses the public Kad P2P network for one of its two channels for communicating between infected PCs and the C&C servers, said Kaspersky. Previously, botnets that communicated via P2P used a closed network they had created.

By using a public network, the criminals insure their botnet will survive any take-down effort.

"Any attempt to take down the regular C&Cs can effectively be circumvented by the TDL group by updating the list of C&Cs through the P2P network," said Schouwenberg. "The fact that TDL has two separate channels for communications will make any take-down very, very tough."

Kaspersky estimated that the TDL-4 botnet consists of more than 4.5 million infected Windows PCs.

TDL-4's rootkit, encryption and communication practices, as well as its ability to disable other malware, including the well-known Zeus, makes the botnet extremely durable. "TDL is a business, and its goal is to stay on PCs as long as possible," said Stewart, citing the technologies that make the botnet nearly impossible to knock offline.

Stewart wasn't shocked that the TDL-4 botnet numbers millions of machines, saying that its durability contributed to its large size.

"The 4.5 million is not surprising at all," Stewart said. "It might not have as high an infection rate as other botnets, but its longevity means that as long as they can keep infecting computers and the discovery rate is small, they'll keep growing it."

Stewart pointed out that TDL-4's counter-attacks against other malware was another reason it's so successful.

"That's so smart," he said, adding that disabling competing malware -- which likely is much easier to detect -- means it has an even better chance of remaining on the PC. If other threats cause suspicious behavior, the machine's owner may investigate, perhaps run additional security scans or install antivirus software.

TDL-4's makers use the botnet to plant additional malware on PCs, rent it out to others for that purpose and for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and to conduct spam and phishing campaigns. Kaspersky said TDL-4 has installed nearly 30 different malicious programs on the PCs it controls.

But it's able to remove any at will. "TDL-4 doesn't delete itself following installation of other malware," said Golovanov. "At any time [it] can ... delete malware it has downloaded."

This is one dangerous customer, Stewart concluded.

"For all intents and purposes, [TDL-4] is very tough to remove," Stewart said. "It's definitely one of the most sophisticated botnets out there."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is

Read more about Cybercrime and Hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Topic Center.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Immigration restrictions take 1 step forward, 1 back, in South

By David Beasley
Posted 2011/06/27 at 7:39 pm EDT

ATLANTA, June 27, 2011 (Reuters) — A federal judge on Monday blocked two key parts of Georgia's crackdown on illegal immigration, just as the governor in neighboring South Carolina signed a measure to impose new immigration restrictions there.

The actions are the latest illustration of a familiar trend in the United States, as lawmakers in a number of states seek to curb illegal immigration only to be thwarted by the courts.

Judge Thomas Thrash issued a preliminary injunction halting Georgia from authorizing police officers to question criminal suspects about their immigration status.

He also blocked portions of the legislation that would make it a crime to knowingly harbor or transport an illegal immigrant.

"The apparent legislative intent is to create such a climate of hostility, fear, mistrust and insecurity that all illegal aliens will leave Georgia," Thrash wrote in his ruling.

Civil rights groups argue the Georgia law is unconstitutional because it preempts federal enforcement of immigration law. Thrash ruled that the law's opponents are likely to win their constitutional challenge.

He said allowing the law to take effect would subject people to lengthy and intrusive immigration status investigations during many routine encounters with law enforcement.

"The individual plaintiffs have shown a realistic threat of injury," he said.

Governor Nathan Deal's office said the state will appeal.

"The state of Georgia narrowly tailored its immigration law to conform with existing federal law and court rulings," the governor's office said in a statement. "Georgians can rest assured that this battle doesn't end here."


Georgia is the latest state to have tough immigration legislation blocked in court. Courts have also halted key provisions of laws passed by Arizona, Indiana and Utah.

Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, which brought the suit challenging Georgia's law, said he was "very glad the worst parts" of it would not be going into effect on July 1.

"This is now the fourth law of this type that has been blocked by the courts," Jadwat told Reuters by telephone.

"These laws have universally failed the judicial test, and so we think that sends a clear message to the remaining states that might be considering something of this sort."

In South Carolina, the ACLU vowed to file suit against that state's freshly signed illegal immigration bill.

Republican Governor Nikki Haley on Monday gave her official approval for the law that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest for another reason and suspect may be in the country illegally.

"This is not an anti-tolerance bill. This is not a bill that pushes away one group for another group," said Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants. "This is a bill that enforces laws ... We support legal immigration."

The new law, due to take effect on January 1, also requires employers in South Carolina to use the federal E-Verify system to check citizenship status of employees and job applicants. Penalties for knowingly employing illegal immigrants will include suspension and revocation of a business license by the state.

The law creates a $1.3 million Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit within the state public safety department to serve as a liaison between local police and federal immigration officials.

"This law undermines the efforts made to overcome our state's shameful history of discrimination, inviting racial profiling of anyone who looks or sounds 'foreign,'" said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina.


Even as some states seek to enact new restrictions on illegal immigration, several officials in Washington endorsed the DREAM Act on Monday, the day before a Senate subcommittee hearing on that bill which would make it easier for certain illegal immigrants to gain citizenship.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and military expert Margaret Stock all offered support for the act, under which approximately 80,000 young people would be eligible for citizenship.

Duncan will testify before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday morning.

An estimated 65,000 young people graduate from high school in the U.S. each year unable to work, go to college or join the military due to their immigration status, according to a statement following the officials' news conference.

The DREAM Act would allow children of undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, graduated from high school, and are of "good moral character" the chance to become citizens by pursuing higher education or serving in the U.S. military, the press release said.

The DREAM Act passed the House but failed in the Senate last year in the previous Congress.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor, Harriet McLeod and Molly O'Toole; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jewish court sentences dog to death by stoning

A Jerusalem rabbinical court condemned to death by stoning a dog it suspects is the reincarnation of a secular lawyer who insulted the court's judges 20 years ago, Ynet website reported on Friday.

According to Ynet, the large dog made its way into the Monetary Affairs Court in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, frightening judges and plaintiffs.

Despite attempts to drive the dog out of the court, the hound refused to leave the premises.

One of the sitting judges then recalled a curse the court had passed down upon a secular lawyer who had insulted the judges two decades previously.

Their preferred divine retribution was for the lawyer's spirit to move into the body of a dog, an animal considered impure by traditional Judaism.

Clearly still offended, one of the judges sentenced the animal to death by stoning by local children.

The canine target, however, managed to escape.

"Let the Animals Live", an animal-welfare organisation filed a complaint with the police against the head of the court, Rabbi Avraham Dov Levin, who denied that the judges had called for the dog's stoning, Ynet reported.

One of the court's managers, however, confirmed the report of the lapidation sentence to Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot.

"It was ordered ... as an appropriate way to 'get back at' the spirit which entered the poor dog," the paper reported the manager as saying, according to Ynet.

Certain schools of thought within Judaism believe in the transmigration of souls, or reincarnation.

Inside the private world of London's ultra Orthodox Jews

Saturday, June 18, 2011

3-D movie shows what happens in the brain as it loses consciousness

University of Manchester researchers have for the first time been able to watch what happens to the brain as it loses consciousness.
The anaesthetised brain as revealed by the fEITER scan

Using sophisticated imaging equipment they have constructed a 3-D movie of the brain as it changes while an anaesthetic drug takes effect.

Brian Pollard, Professor of Anaesthesia at Manchester Medical School, will tell the European Anaesthesiology Congress in Amsterdam today (Saturday) that the real-time 3-D images seemed to show that losing consciousness involves a change in electrical activity deep within the brain, changing the activity of certain groups of nerve cells (neurons) and hindering communication between different parts of the brain.

He said the findings appear to support a hypothesis put forward by Professor Susan Greenfield, of the University of Oxford, about the nature of consciousness itself. Prof Greenfield suggests consciousness is formed by different groups of brain cells (neural assemblies), which work efficiently together, or not, depending on the available sensory stimulations, and that consciousness is not an all-or-none state but more like a dimmer switch, changing according to growth, mood or drugs. When someone is anaesthetised it appears that small neural assemblies either work less well together or inhibit communication with other neural assemblies.

Professor Pollard, whose team is based at Manchester Royal Infirmary, said: “Our findings suggest that unconsciousness may be the increase of inhibitory assemblies across the brain’s cortex. These findings lend support to Greenfield’s hypothesis of neural assemblies forming consciousness.”

The team use an entirely new imaging method called “functional electrical impedance tomography by evoked response” (fEITER), which enables high-speed imaging and monitoring of electrical activity deep within the brain and is designed to enable researchers to measure brain function.

The new device was developed by a multidisciplinary team drawn from the Schools of Medicine and Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The University of Manchester, led by Professor Hugh McCann and with support from a Wellcome Trust Translation Award.

The machine itself is a portable, light-weight monitor, which can fit on a small trolley. It has 32 electrodes that are fitted around the patient’s head. A small, high-frequency electric current (too small to be felt or have any effect) is passed between two of the electrodes, and the voltages between other pairs of electrodes are measured in a process that takes less than one-thousandth of a second.

An ‘electronic scan’ is therefore carried out and the machine does this whole procedure 100 times a second. By measuring the resistance to current flow (electrical impedance), a cross-sectional image of the changing electrical conductivity within the brain is constructed. This is thought to reflect the amount of electrical activity in different parts of the brain. The speed of the response of fEITER is such that the evoked response of the brain to external stimuli, such as an anaesthetic drug, can be captured in rapid succession as different parts of the brain respond, so tracking the brain’s processing activity.

“We have looked at 20 healthy volunteers and are now looking at 20 anaesthetised patients scheduled for surgery,” said Professor Pollard. “We are able to see 3-D images of the brain’s conductivity change, and those where the patient is becoming anaesthetised are most interesting.

“We have been able to see a real time loss of consciousness in anatomically distinct regions of the brain for the first time. We are currently working on trying to interpret the changes that we have observed, as we still do not know exactly what happens within the brain as unconsciousness occurs, but this is another step in the direction of understanding the brain and its functions.”

The team at Manchester is one of many worldwide investigating electrical impedance tomography (EIT), but this is its first application to anaesthesia. Professor Pollard said that a huge amount of research still needed to be done to fully understand the role EIT could play in medicine.

“If its power can be harnessed, then it has the potential to make a huge impact on many areas of imaging in medicine,” he said. “It should help us to better understand anaesthesia, sedation and unconsciousness, although its place in medicine is more likely to be in diagnosing changes to the brain that occur as a result of, for example, head injury, stroke and dementia.

“The biggest hurdle is working out what we are seeing and exactly what it means, and this will be an ongoing challenge.”

Professor Pollard’s presentation at the European Anaesthesiology Congress will take place on Saturday, June 11, at 15:15 hrs (CEST), abstract no: 7AP1-6.

fEITER was invented at The University of Manchester and developed with funding from The Wellcome Trust (from 2005 to 2011). fEITER has patent protection in Europe with patents pending in the USA. The technology is available to license from UMIP, The University of Manchester’s IP commercialisation company.

Pictures of the images produced by fEITER are available for journalists to use.

Euroanaesthesia 2011, the European Anaesthesiology Congress, is taking place from June 11-14 at the Amsterdam RAI Convention Centre (Amsterdam, The Netherlands). A total of 847 abstracts will be presented at the Congress, and 5,500-6,000 delegates from more than 90 countries around the world will be attending.

For further information contact:

Emma Mason

Tel: 01376 563090
Mob: 07711 296 986

Or Aeron Haworth
Media Relations
Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences
The University of Manchester

Tel: 0161 275 8383
Mob: 07717 881563

Friday, June 17, 2011

Memory Implant Gives Rats Sharper Recollection

Published: June 17, 2011

Scientists have designed a brain implant that restored lost memory function and strengthened recall of new information in laboratory rats — a crucial first step in the development of so-called neuroprosthetic devices to repair deficits from dementia, stroke and other brain injuries in humans.

Though still a long way from being tested in humans, the implant demonstrates for the first time that a cognitive function can be improved with a device that mimics the firing patterns of neurons. In recent years neuroscientists have developed implants that allow paralyzed people to move prosthetic limbs or a computer cursor, using their thoughts to activate the machines. In the new work, being published Friday, researchers at Wake Forest University and the University of Southern California used some of the same techniques to read neural activity. But they translated those signals internally, to improve brain function rather than to activate outside appendages.

“It’s technically very impressive to pull something like this off, given our current level of technology,” said Daryl Kipke, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the experiment. “We are just scratching the surface when it comes to interacting with the brain, but this experiment shows what’s possible and the great potential of interacting with the brain in this way.”

In a series of experiments, scientists at Wake Forest led by Sam A. Deadwyler trained rats to remember which of two identical levers to press to receive water; the animals first saw one of the two levers appear and then (after being distracted) had to remember to press the other lever to be rewarded. Repeated training on this task teaches rats the general rule, but in each trial the animal has to remember which lever appeared first, to inform the later choice.

The rats were implanted with a tiny array of electrodes, which threaded from the top of the head down into two neighboring pieces of the hippocampus, a structure that is crucial for forming these new memories, in rats as in humans. The two slivers of tissue, called CA1 and CA3, communicate with each other as the brain learns and stores new information. The device transmits these exchanges to a computer.

To test the effect of the implant, the researchers used a drug to shut down the activity of CA1. Without CA1 online, the rats could not remember which lever to push to get water. They remembered the rule — push the opposite lever of the one that first appeared — but not which they had seen first.

The researchers, having recorded the appropriate signal from CA1, simply replayed it, like a melody on a player piano — and the animals remembered. The implant acted as if it were CA1, at least for this one task.

“Turn the switch on, the animal has the memory; turn it off and they don’t: that’s exactly how it worked,” said Theodore W. Berger, a professor of engineering at U.S.C. and the lead author of the study, being published in The Journal of Neural Engineering. His co-authors were Robert E. Hampson and Anushka Goonawardena, along with Dr. Deadwyler, of Wake Forest, and Dong Song and Vasilis Z. Marmarelis of U.S.C.

In rats that did not receive the drug, new memories faded by about 40 percent after a long distraction period. But if the researchers amplified the corresponding CA1 signals using the implant, the memories eroded only about 10 percent in that time.

The authors said that with wireless technology and computer chips, the system could be easily fitted for human use. But there are a number of technical and theoretical obstacles. For one, the implant must first record a memory trace before playing it back or amplifying it; in patients with significant memory problems, those signals may be too weak. In addition, human memory is a rich, diverse neural process that involves many other brain areas, not just CA3 and CA1; implants in this area will be limited.

Still, some restored memories — Where is the bathroom? Where are the pots and pans stored? — could make a big difference in the lives of someone with dementia. “If you’re caring for someone in the house, for example,” Dr. Berger said, “it might be enough to keep the person out of the nursing home.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 17, 2011

An earlier version of this article misidentified the journal in which the research was published. It is The Journal of Neural Engineering. (The Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation is a different publication.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Seattle area 15-year-old sells startup to ActiveState


Manage Perl web apps in the cloud

Seattle area 15-year-old sells startup to ActiveState

Some entrepreneurs wait a lifetime to experience the thrill of selling their startup companies. Daniil Kulchenko, a Seattle area high school student, accomplished that milestone at the age of 15. Kulchenko today announced that he’s sold his startup, a cloud-based computing company known as Phenona, to Vancouver, B.C.-based ActiveState in a deal of undisclosed size.

Kulchenko plans to join ActiveState in a part-time role, since he’s still a student at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore. Phenona had not publicly launched at the time of the sale, but ActiveState CEO Bart Copeland said that the deal will help speed the company’s move into cloud computing.

“The technology, knowledge, and talent from Phenona will extend a key part of our cloud strategy while helping us accelerate our development in this fast-paced market,” Copeland said in a release.

Kulchenko started Phenona after working on a contract job in which he found it difficult to deploy a Perl web app to the cloud and couldn’t find a service on the market to meet the need.

He started programming at a young age, with The Register noting that he began tinkering with HTML at the age of six and became a freelance Linux administrator at 11. It also points out that ActiveState was founded in 1997, making it just one year younger than Kulchenko.

Kulchenko’s father, Paul, is an artificial intelligence and robotics researcher at the University of Washington.

We emailed with Daniil Kulchenko this morning about the deal, but he wasn’t available for a full interview because he was, interestingly enough, on his way to school.

In a blog post, Kulchenko writes that he’s received “immense feedback’ from Perl developers on the yet-to-be-released service. “… It’s easy to tell that the Perl community has long been searching for a simple way to manage Perl web apps in the cloud,” he wrote.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Google Launches Search By Image – It’s Like Goggles For The Desktop

Here is a video that Google has released introducing Search by Image:

Suppose you have an image you want to search about. There are three ways for you to use Search by Image to search for the image:

* You can upload the image.
* You can also drag and drop the image into the search box.
* If the image is online, you can paste the URL of the image into the search box.
* You can also use extensions for Chrome and Firefox that Google will release.

After the image has been analyzed by the servers at Google, Google will attempt to identify the image and bring up search results related to it. The technology used for Search by Image is similar to that used by Google Goggles for smartphones.

The service is not live yet and Google will roll out the feature in the coming few days. You will know that Search by Image has been activated for you when you see a camera icon at the right of the search box.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

10 physical gestures that have been patented

Avatar for Annalee Newitz Annalee Newitz —10 physical gestures that have been patented If you're making a flicking gesture with a pen near your computer, watch out. Microsoft may own the rights to the gesture you're making. And if you like to draw letters of the alphabet using one penstroke per letter, you may one day find yourself paying a licensing fee to Xerox.

It sounds crazy, but tech companies have been patenting physical gestures for almost two decades now. In a world ruled by touchscreens, Kinect, and Guitar Hero, these businesses don't want people making certain gestures without paying for it. Find out which gestures you're making that may be infringing somebody's patents.

People have been claiming exclusive ownership of physical moves for a while. Famous choreographer Martha Graham's company copyrighted many of her iconic dances, and even sued a man who said the work was actually his. A few years ago, the guy who copyrighted the Electric Slide dance asked YouTube to remove a video of people dancing his copyrighted moves (YouTube complied, but after some legal negotiation the choreographer made his dance available under a more open Creative Commons license.)

Here are ten patents that limit your ability to use certain physical gestures because somebody owns them.

1. Slide to unlock
Of course this is owned by Apple, as any iPhone user can tell you. Apple owns a design patent on the "ornamental" design of the lock screen that asks you to "slide to unlock" by tracing your finger in a straight line across the screen. So they haven't exactly patented the gesture itself, but instead the design that draws you into making the gesture. So you'd better not create any designs that invite people to "slide to unlock" anything. This patent may be one reason why the unlock screens for Android phones don't allow you to pick an unlock gesture that's one, single slide across the screen.

10 physical gestures that have been patented 2. Multi-touch gestures for touchscreen or trackpad
One critic called Apple's latest patent application, filed this year, "bonkers" because it includes several multi-touch gestures that look more like the dance steps to the Time Warp than actual things your fingers could do on an iPhone. You can see them here - basically, Apple is trying to claim ownership of everything from an infinity gesture on your phone, to some sort of weird thing where you stick three fingers on the screen and wiggle the middle one in a circle. This wouldn't be the first time Apple patented a weird gesture that we now take for granted on many devices: The company owns the patent on the "pinch to zoom" gesture which lets you expand or shrink images on many touchscreen devices.

10 physical gestures that have been patented 3. Drawing each letter of the alphabet using a single stroke of your pen
Did you know that if you draw a letter using one stroke, without ever lifting your pen from the page, you could be infringing a patent owned by Xerox? That's what the company Palm found out a decade ago, when they launched their Palm Pilot. You could input text to the device using the "graffiti" alphabet, created by drawing letters with simplified strokes of a pointer device. This led to Xerox filing a giant lawsuit against Palm. The issue? Xerox thought the gestures to make the Palm graffiti alphabet were too similar to those required to make Xerox's patented "unistroke" alphabet. Palm now owns a patent on a "multiple stroke" alphabet.

4. Making hand gestures to move icons around on your phone
Samsung sneakily patented the use of gestures to move icons around on your phone, but they didn't specify which gestures. At some point, I bet they'll sue somebody who makes an app that lets you give the bird to a Samsung phone in order to send pre-installed Facebook apps to the trash.

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5. Any set of personalized gestures you use to operate your Kinect
Microsoft owns a patent on what it calls "gesture profiles" for use with the Kinect. These are custom profiles that users can create to make favorite gestures into commands. So, for instance, you could create a custom profile where doing the Vulcan greeting gesture opens your favorite game. And Microsoft would own your ability to do that. They could prevent other companies from allowing you to create similar gesture profiles for competing products.

6. Flicking your pen at something
Strangely, Microsoft also owns the patent on "a system and method for determining whether a flick gesture has occurred." Specifically, Microsoft owns the patent on making said flick gesture with a pointing device, and then causing an animated movement on a screen as a result. Basically what they seem to be getting at is that they own the gesture where you flick your pen at a tablet, and it causes something like an arrow or window to move across the screen. Still, is the idea of flicking your pen at something really an innovation worth patenting?

7. Shaking your mobile device
Ever get pissed off at your phone and shake it up and down until it reboots? You could be benefitting from a patent infringement! Intellectual Ventures owns a very broad patent on moving your mobile device around (basically, shaking your phone). If any company dares to create a product which relies on somebody shaking a mobile device to reboot, they'd better cough up some cash to license this gesture from Intellectual Ventures.

8. Moving 3D objects in a virtual environment
You know how researchers in scifi movies sometimes say, "Check out my molecule," and a molecule hologram appears that they move around to give us our infodump about whatever the molecule does? Well, let's just hope that whatever high tech system they're using to do all that has paid licensing fees. Lucent owns a patent on manipulating 3D objects in virtual environments. That's right - you need to pay up if you intend to make any gestures that allow you to enter the world of Tron.

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9. Two-handed motions
Here's a seriously weird one. A company called GestureTek owns several patents on optical systems for sensing gestures, but the most bizarre is their insanely broad patent on a device that tracks two-handed motions. If you want to make a device that detects two-handed movement (charmingly called "bimanual movements" in the patent), you should be paying a licensing fee to GestureTek every time you do jazz hands.

10. Texting without lifting your fingers off the keyboard
You may have heard of Swype, which allows you to text by just sliding your fingers over the keyboard of your phone instead of poking each key. You didn't think Swype was letting you do that out of the goodness of their hearts did you? The company Swype owns a patent on "system and a method for continuous stroke word-based text input," which sounds incredibly smutty but just means that you'd better keep texting the old-fashioned way by poking those tiny keys with your fingernails.

An interesting note: You're probably wondering about the Nintendo Wii, which is one of the most obviously gesture-controlled pieces of technology on the market right now. Interestingly, Nintendo did not patent any gestures at all in the creation of the Wii controller, instead focusing entirely on patenting facets of the device. Their patent covers a controller that contains an accelerometer, but not the gestures used to operate it.

Thanks to Wendy Seltzer for legal help and suggestions.

Top photograph of Martha Graham dance company via Newnotizie

Monday, June 6, 2011

English Teenager Invents a Better Doorbell

The doorbell that tricks burglars into thinking you're home - and the boy, 13, who invented it

By Lee Cain

Smart boy: Schoolboy Lawrence Rook, 13, invented Smart Bell, which calls your mobile when it is rung

A schoolboy is on course for a £250,000 windfall after inventing a doorbell that fools burglars into believing somebody is home at an empty property.

Smart Bell, designed by 13-year-old Laurence Rook, dials the homeowner's mobile phone when pressed, allowing them to talk to whoever is outside their front door.

The device even produces a small amount of white noise to give any unexpected guest the impression they are speaking to someone inside the house on an intercom system.

The invention, which uses an inbuilt SIM card and existing mobile-phone technology, would also allow homeowners to give instructions to drivers making deliveries at their property.

Laurence has already sold 20,000 units to telecoms giant Commtel Innovate and is finalising a deal with an unnamed second company for a further 25,000 units.

When the deal is signed, he will be £250,000 richer.

The teenager, from Whyteleafe, Surrey, said: 'At first I designed the idea because my mum was fed up going to the Post Office to collect deliveries made when we were not at home.

'When I started to develop the Smart Bell, I realised it could also be a great burglar-deterrent.

'Most opportunist burglars ring the doorbell first to see if anyone is at home, but Smart Bell has the perfect way to counteract this.

'If you are out and a burglar comes up to your door and rings the doorbell, after ten seconds Smart Bell will ring through to your mobile phone and you will be able to answer.

'There is a small amount of white noise so it will sound like an intercom and the burglar will never know that you're not actually inside the house.'
Inspiration: Lawrence initially came up with the idea for a Dragon's Den style contest at his school - but wasn't allowed to enter without a prototype

Inspiration: Lawrence initially came up with the idea for a Dragon's Den style contest at his school - but wasn't allowed to enter without a prototype

Laurence had the idea for the Smart Bell after his school challenged pupils to come up with an invention for a Dragons' Den-style competition.

Laurence, who won a scholarship to attend private Trinity School in Croydon, South London, was initially unable to enter the contest because he didn't have a working prototype.

But his parents, James and Margaret Rook, then showed his plans to family friend Paula Ward, who was crowned the world's top female inventor in 2004 for designing a web chatroom safety system.

Laurence said: 'Paula thought it was brilliant and sent off the designs to China for it to be made into the actual product.

'I was gobsmacked that she thought it was so good.'

Less than 12 months after the prototype was developed, Commtel Innovate is preparing for the wholesale release of the product and High Street giants B&Q, PC World, Currys and Comet are now set to stock the Smart Bell, which will cost £40.
Riches: Lawrence is expected to earn around £250,000 from his invention which expected to cost £40 from High Street giants including B&Q, PC World, Currys and Comet

Riches: Lawrence is expected to earn around £250,000 from his invention which expected to cost £40 from High Street giants including B&Q, PC World and Currys

Laurence is trying to decide what to do with his windfall.

'When I found out I was going to make a quarter of a million pounds, I thought, "Wow, that's a lot of computer games",' he said.

'It's amazing having that amount of money, but I haven't told any of my school friends yet. I don't know what they'll think.

'I'm going to save most of the money – I want to go to university, so I'll need it for that.'

Mrs Rook, 39, an administrator who has two other sons, Matthew, 11, and Oliver, eight, added: 'It's extra¬ordinary but I'm just trying to keep Laurence grounded at the moment.'

Richard Drewnicki, chief executive of Commtel UK, said: 'There is certainly a market for this kind of product. We hope it will prove popular.'

Read more:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

DNA computer 'calculates square roots'

By Jason Palmer Science and technology reporter, BBC News
DNA and digital information artwork DNA computing is just one of several "biological computing" approaches

Researchers have shown off a "DNA computer" of unprecedented complexity, which can calculate square roots.

DNA computing uses chemical reactions to solve problems in which a number of DNA strands act as "bits".

The work, reported in Science, required 130 strands of DNA to work in a cascade of programmed chemical changes.

The approach is not designed to rival traditional electronics, but rather to allow computing to occur in biological contexts, perhaps even in the body.

DNA computing was first proposed by Leonard Adelman in 1994, to solve what is known as the "travelling salesman problem" - determining the shortest path that joins a number of geographically separated locations.

Since then, a wide array of approaches has aimed to make use of the properties that make DNA attractive for computing: it can be made to order and its interactions with itself are well-studied and reliable.

In 2006, Erik Winfree of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and his colleagues published an article in Science a framework making use of one of these approaches, known as strand displacement.

Stretches of DNA made of just one strand (rather than the two joined strands that form the well-known double helix) were used as anchor points for other single strands.

By carefully "programming" the movement of these strands, the researchers were able to recreate a number of elements familiar from conventional computing, including logic gates, amplification, and feedback.

"Those circuits were smaller [than those of the current work], but more importantly, they were built using more complex DNA molecules that made systems more difficult to debug and had other problems," Professor Winfree told BBC News.

Now, Professor Winfree and his collaborator Lulu Qian have employed a scheme using what they call "seesaw gates", which accomplish the shuffling and exchange of DNA strands using simpler machinery.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

We'd like to make chemical systems that can probe their molecular environments, process chemical signals, make decisions, and take actions at the chemical level”

End Quote Erik Winfree California Institute of Technology

The work showed that seesaw gates could again be used to create logic gates - the basis of electronic computing's manipulation of information - and represented a five-fold leap in the number of DNA sections ever implemented in such a DNA computer.

The approach can be scaled up in complexity far further, the authors suggest - but the process is slow.

For example, it was used to calculate the square root of a four-bit number, but the process took between six and 10 hours.

However, Professor Winfree said that contrary to conventional electronics, the goal is not just high speeds.

"We are no longer pursuing the goal targeted by Len Adleman's original DNA computing experiment: to compete with silicon by using the massive parallelism of chemistry to solve combinatorial problems in mathematics," he explained.

"Instead, our goal is now - and has been for many years - to enrich chemistry itself so that molecular behaviours can be programmed.

"We'd like to make chemical systems that can probe their molecular environments, process chemical signals, make decisions, and take actions at the chemical level."

Binyamin Gil, a member of the research group that in 2009 published on a DNA computer that could "answer" logical conundrums, told BBC News that the DNA computer of the new work exhibited more "digital behaviour" than other molecular computing approaches and thus that "it may be more robust, reliable and scalable".

"The complexity of the presented work - together with the potential of scalability and of interfacing it with other molecular computers - make this paper important and interesting," he said.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

North Korea training cyberwarriors at foreign colleges

North Korea training cyberwarriors at foreign colleges
Defector claims unit expanded from 500 to 3,000 people

By John E Dunn, Techworld | Security Add a new comment

June 01, 2011, 1:12 PM — North Korea is trying to boost its cyberwar capability by its best sending programmers abroad for training in the latest hacking techniques, a defector from the country has told a security conference in Seoul.

According to Kim Heung-kwang, who left the bizarre and secretive Communist state in 2003, North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau cyberwarfare unit has increased in size for 500 personnel to as many as 3,000, Reuters has reported him as saying.

"These prodigies are provided with the best environment, and if they graduate with top grades, their parents in the provinces are given the opportunity to live in Pyongyang," Kim told delegates, speaking as the head of a defector network, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.

"After studying at local universities, these students are given the special privilege of continuing their studies abroad," he said.

Given the country's unstable behaviour, including an incident in which it shelled a South Korean fishing village last November, its cyberwarfare capability is being watched closely.

Only two weeks ago, details emerged of a North Korean college at which up to 120 students a year are allegedly trained to conduct cyberwarfare operations.

Working out what this means in practical terms is not easy - many countries around the world are actively bolstering their cryberwar teams, including the UK.

It doesn't help that South Korea tends to point the finger at North Korea for cyber-attacks even when the evidence is far from clear. Earlier this month, North Korea the blame for a computer crash at a South Korean bank was pinned on its northern neighbour.

Last summer, North Korea was widely blamed for a large series of cyber-attacks against US and South Korean websites which later turned out not to have been connected to the country.

Google e-mail accounts compromised by 'Chinese hackers'

Google's logo Google said its own security defences were not compromised but that individual users were tricked

Hackers in China have compromised personal e-mail accounts of hundreds of top US officials, military personnel and journalists, Google has said.

The US company said a campaign to obtain passwords originated in Jinan and was aimed at monitoring e-mail.

Google said its security was not breached but indicated individuals' passwords were obtained through fraud.

Chinese political activists and officials in other Asian countries were also targeted, Google said.

"Google detected and has disrupted this campaign to take users' passwords and monitor their emails," the company said on Wednesday.

"We have notified victims and secured their accounts. In addition, we have notified relevant government authorities."

In Washington, the White House said it was investigating the reports but did not believe official US government e-mail accounts had been breached.

The e-mail scam uses a practice known as "spear phishing" in which specific e-mail users are tricked into divulging their login credentials to a web page that resembles Google's Gmail web service (or which appears related to the target's work) but is in fact run by hackers, according to a technical report released by Google.

Having obtained the user's e-mail login and password, the hackers then tell Gmail's service to forward incoming e-mail to another account set up by the hacker.

In Washington, the BBC's Adam Brookes says it is extremely difficult for analysts to determine whether governments or individuals are responsible for such attacks.

But the fact that the victims were people with access to sensitive, even secret information, raises the possibility that this was cyber espionage, not cyber crime, our correspondent says.

WHO: Cell phone use can increase possible cancer risk

(CNN) -- Radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization. The agency now lists mobile phone use in the same "carcinogenic hazard" category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.

Before its announcement Tuesday, WHO had assured consumers that no adverse health effects had been established.

A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, made the decision after reviewing peer-reviewed studies on cell phone safety. The team found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

What that means is they found some evidence of increase in glioma and acoustic neuroma brain cancer for mobile phone users, but have not been able to draw conclusions for other types of cancers

"The biggest problem we have is that we know most environmental factors take several decades of exposure before we really see the consequences," said Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The type of radiation coming out of a cell phone is called non-ionizing. It is not like an X-ray, but more like a very low-powered microwave oven.

"What microwave radiation does in most simplistic terms is similar to what happens to food in microwaves, essentially cooking the brain," Black said. "So in addition to leading to a development of cancer and tumors, there could be a whole host of other effects like cognitive memory function, since the memory temporal lobes are where we hold our cell phones."

Wireless industry responded to Tuesday's announcement saying it "does not mean cell phones cause cancer." CTIA-The Wireless Association added that WHO researchers "did not conduct any new research, but rather reviewed published studies."

The European Environmental Agency has pushed for more studies, saying cell phones could be as big a public health risk as smoking, asbestos and leaded gasoline. The head of a prominent cancer-research institute at the University of Pittsburgh sent a memo to all employees urging them to limit cell phone use because of a possible risk of cancer.

"When you look at cancer development -- particularly brain cancer -- it takes a long time to develop. I think it is a good idea to give the public some sort of warning that long-term exposure to radiation from your cell phone could possibly cause cancer," said Dr. Henry Lai, research professor in bioengineering at University of Washington who has studied radiation for more than 30 years.

Results from the largest international study on cell phones and cancer was released in 2010. It showed participants in the study who used a cell phone for 10 years or more had doubled the rate of brain glioma, a type of tumor. To date, there have been no long-term studies on the effects of cell phone usage among children.

"Children's skulls and scalps are thinner. So the radiation can penetrate deeper into the brain of children and young adults. Their cells are at a dividing faster rate, so the impact of radiation can be much larger." said Black of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

In February, a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, revealed radiation emitted after just 50 minutes on a mobile phone increases the activity in brain cells. The effects of brain activity being artificially stimulated are still unknown.

Neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta says Tuesday's announcement, "dealt a blow to those who have long said, 'There is no possible mechanism for cell phones to cause cancer.' By classifying cell phones as a possible carcinogen, they also seem to be tacitly admitting a mechanism could exist."

Manufacturers of many popular cell phones already warn consumers to keep their device away from their body and medical experts say there other ways to minimize cell phone radiation.

The Apple iPhone 4 safety manual says users' radiation exposure should not exceed FCC guidelines: "When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 millimeters (5/8 inch) away from the body."

BlackBerry Bold advises users to "keep the BlackBerry device at least 0.98 inch (25 millimeters) from your body when the BlackBerry device is transmitting."

The logic behind such recommendations is that the further the phone is from the body, the less radiation is absorbed. Users can also use the speakerphone function or a wired earpiece to gain some distance.

Users can text instead of talk if they want to keep the phone away from their faces.

Finally, cell phones emit the most radiation when they are attempting to connect to cellular towers. A moving phone, or a phone in an area with a weak signal, has to work harder, giving of more radiation. So users can avoid using their cell phones in elevators, buildings and rural areas if they want to reduce their exposure, experts say.