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Quest Topics and News for Feb 12th

QUEST Topics Feb 12th 2010


  1. The quest group has been asked to provide a keynote address for the International Conference on Information Warfare and Security – April 2010.  Several of us have put together some ideas for the talk and we would like to provide the opportunity for others to comment on and help form the quest message.  The working title for the talk is ‘Integrated human/computer solutions for the ‘wicked’ problems we face’.  Our first topic at this week’s quest meeting is to discuss the ideas we want to present to the information warfare audience on innovative approaches aligned with QUEST.  First we would like to discuss a working definition for ‘wicked’ problems being those problems that have potentially conflicting or changing requirements associated with them.  Quite often the wicked nature of a problem comes from our translation of the original need into a set of requirements that we know how to engineer.  The impedance mismatch between these two (the original problem and our engineer specs for the solution) makes the problem ‘wicked’.  For example it is our intent to get out of Afghanistan and have it not become a place where attacks against U.S. or our Allies interests are staged from.  But we translate that into a battle field engineering specification problem of taking Marjah and routing the Taliban that occupy it.  The mismatch between these two may cause achieving one (route the Taliban out of Marjah) to the detriment of the other (upsetting the population and setting them against the U. S.).  We have a set of slides that Adam can provide to lead us through a discussion on the common attributes of these problems and why we think QUEST provides an innovative approach to solving.

News stories from the last week

  1. MylifeBits
    A place to get insight into our ‘immortal Matt’ project… MylifeBits is a lifetime store of everything. It is the fulfillment of Vannevar Bush’s 1945 Memex vision including full-text search, text & audio annotations, and hyperlinks.  There are two parts to MyLifeBits: an experiment in lifetime storage, and a software research effort.

    B.   Is the ‘Avatar’ concept really possible http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/02/03/avatar.technology.science/index.html

    Scientists say we are far from making “Avatar’s” human-avatar interaction possible, if at all…A monkey in North Carolina mentally controlled the walking patterns of a robot in Japan…The record in one researcher’s lab for typing with the mind is 20 words per minute…Expert: “Avatar” “shouldn’t be taken as anything but fantasy” 

     C.  Suicide bosom bombers

    Muslim doctors trained at some of Britain’s leading teaching hospitals have returned to their own countries to fit surgical implants filled with explosives… Women suicide bombers recruited by al-Qaida are known to have had the explosives inserted in their breasts under techniques similar to breast enhancing surgery. The lethal explosives – usually PETN (pentaerythritol Tetrabitrate) – are inserted during the operation inside the plastic shapes. The breast is then sewn up… “Properly inserted the implant would be virtually impossible to detect by the usual airport scanning machines. You would need to subject a suspect to a sophisticated X-ray. Given that the explosive would be inserted in a sealed plastic sachet, and would be a small amount, would make it all the more impossible to spot it with the usual body scanner.”…Explosive experts at Britain’s Porton Down biological and chemical warfare research center told MI5 that a sachet containing as little as five ounces of PETN when activated would blow “a considerable hole” in an airline’s skin which would guarantee it would crash 

     D.  SIDS and serotonin

    There is no test to determine which infants may be at risk for SIDS…Serotonin acts as an alarm in the brainstem, waking up a baby when breathing is disrupted…Parents should ensure that babies can breathe uninhibited during sleep… Levels of serotonin, which regulate a baby’s sleep, heart rate and breathing, were 26 percent lower in the brainstems of babies who died of SIDS than in those of babies who died of other causes infants with insufficient serotonin also had low levels of the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, which is needed to make serotonin. Levels of that were 22 percent lower in SIDS babies… no test to determine *** my suspicion is that a test could be develop that isn’t chemical but has to do with discernible differences in trying to wake the babies ***  which infants may be at risk for SIDS. Kinney told CNN that researchers believe they are decades away from discovering a physical marker of a brainstem problem that could be identified in the blood Place babies on their backs to avoid their rolling over, don’t over-bundle the baby, and don’t leave loose bedding or stuffed toys in the crib. 

     E.    Vegetative but conscious

    For five years he lay mute and immobile beneath a diagnosis — “vegetative state” — that all but ruled out the possibility of thought, much less recovery… has begun to communicate: in response to simple questions, like “Do you have any brothers?,” he showed distinct traces of activity on a brain imaging machine that represented either “yes” or “no.”… could raise troubling ethical questions about whether to consult severely disabled patients on their care… hidden ability displayed by the young accident victim is rare… When doctors asked her to think of playing tennis, areas of her motor cortex leapt to life. When asked to think of being in her house, spatial areas in the brain became active… open a channel of communication, they instructed one of them, the 29-year-old man, to associate thoughts about tennis with “yes” and thoughts about being in his house with “no.”… “If you ask a patient whether he or she wants to live or die, and the answer is die, would you be convinced that that answer was sufficient?”… 

     F.   Google and NSA unite against cyber attacks

    The world’s largest Internet search company and the world’s most powerful electronic surveillance organization are teaming up in the name of cybersecurity… National Security Agency would help Google analyze a major corporate espionage attack that the firm said originated in China and targeted its computer networks… objective is to better defend Google — and its users — from future attack… alliance is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information without violating Google’s policies or laws that protect the privacy of Americans’ online communications… Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair called the Google attacks, which the company acknowledged in January, a “wake-up call.” Cyberspace cannot be protected, he said, without a “collaborative effort that incorporates both the U.S. private sector and our international partners.” 

     G.  US scientists given access to cloud computing

    The National Science Foundation and the Microsoft Corporation have agreed to offer American scientific researchers free access to the company’s new cloud computing service… goal of the three-year project is to give scientists the computing power to cope with exploding amounts of research datauses Microsoft’s Windows Azure computing system, which the company recently introduced to compete with cloud computing services from companies like Amazon, Google, I.B.M. and Yahoo. These cloud computing systems allow organizations and individuals to run computing tasks and Internet services remotely in relatively low-cost data centers… company was prepared to invest millions of dollars in the service and that it could support thousands of scientific research programs… Access to the service will come in grants from the foundation to new and continuing scientific research. Microsoft executives said they planned eventually to make the new service global… 

      H. Hybrid video

    Could seeing with heat and light simultaneously improve search and rescue missions?… created a hybrid video system that integrates visible and infrared footage into a single shot… making sense of two videos at once is difficult. Infrared is especially useful when covering large search areas as it picks up heat-signatures, which visible footage doesn’t show. But its lack of geographical information makes it tricky to interpret… devised a way to calibrate the feeds from two such cameras attached to a model aircraft… To test whether the hybrid video would aid search and rescue teams, Rasmussen asked volunteers to watch either his hybrid stream or the two separate visible and infrared feeds. The volunteers were also played a series of beeps….While both groups were able to pick out objects in the footage, those watching the hybrid stream were more accurate in reporting the number of beeps they had heard. This suggests that the hybrid video is easier to interpret

     I.   US Oil industry hit by cyberattacks

    Breaches show how sophisticated industrial espionage is becoming. The big question: Who’s behind them?… A key target of 2008 cyberattacks on US oil and gas companies ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Marathon was exploration ‘bid data’ that provides critical details about new energy discoveries…At least three US oil companies were the target of a series of previously undisclosed cyberattacks that may have originated in China and that experts say highlight a new level of sophistication in the growing global war of Internet espionage… Federal officials told the companies proprietary information had been flowing out, including to computers overseas… While China’s involvement in the attacks is far from certain, at least some data was detected flowing from one oil company computer to a computer in China… the breaches, which left dozens of computers and their data vulnerable in those companies’ global networks, were confirmed over a five-month Monitor investigation in interviews with dozens of oil industry insiders, cybersecurity experts, former government officials, and by documents describing the attacks… The new type of attack involves custom-made spyware that is virtually undetectable by antivirus and other electronic defenses traditionally used by corporations 

     J.   Immortal DARPA

    details on a project known as BioDesign. DARPA hopes to dispense with evolutionary randomness and assemble biological creatures, genetically programmed to live indefinitely and presumably do whatever their human masters want… planned self-destruct genetic code that could be triggered… has committed just a piddling $6 million out of next year’s budget toward BioDesign. But it will also put $20 million toward a new synthetic biology program and give $7.5 million for speeding up the analysis and editing of cellular genomes… 

     K.  Social Search

    The paper laying out a strategy for social search, “Anatomy of a Large Scale Social Search Engine,” was written by Damon Horowitz and Sepandar Kamvar of Aardvark, one of several companies working on creating social search engines. As of October 2009, Aardvark had about 90,000 usersSocial search aims to connect people with questions to people who can answer those questions… idea has gained momentum with the increased use of Twitter and Facebook, where people rely on their networks for information, blasting queries to their social networks and, if their networks are good enough, getting useful, personalized responses… trying to create better tools for people with questions to connect to people with answers. There are some people who think social search has the potential to go beyond Google and fundamentally change the way people use the Internet… Aardvark uses various factors to identify who it thinks are the best people to answer a question, then poses the question to them. Among the things it attempts to determine are the expertise a potential answerer has about a subject, how closely connected the two people are, and how quickly the answerer is available… From a technical standpoint, Aardvark’s task is easier than Google’s…” only has to pair you with a person who knows about the topic — it doesn’t have to worry about actually finding the answer, and can be more flexible with how the query is worded.” 

    L.   Cyber threats

    U.S. faces “serious and significant” cyberthreats that could compromise national security…John Brennan says the administration is taking steps to improve cybersecurity and looking at the matter from an espionage and terrorism point of view. He says national security is something that’s at risk. 

    M.   New Afghan Offensive

    Afghans Warned to Keep Their ‘Heads Down’… NATO and Afghan officials on Tuesday urged Taliban militants holding a southern town to lay down their arms and warned civilians there to “keep your heads down” as U.S. and Afghan troops prepare their first major offensive of the U.S. troop surge… Marjah, the biggest town in the south under Taliban control… will be over the next weeks and months as the people … feel the benefits of better governance, of economic opportunities and of operating under the legitimate authorities of Afghanistan,”… International officials believe the insurgency has been able to capitalize on widespread public anger over President Hamid Karzai’s corruption-ridden government and failure to provide services after more than eight years of war…. 

    N.  Monitoring Social Sites

    tracks social network chitchat about a product… keeping track of so many conversations in real-time is a daunting challenge… startup called Viralheat, based in San Jose, CA, has launched an analytics package designed to allow in-depth analysis of the tenor of this back and forth. The company hopes its software will help its clients sort through the often overwhelming amount of available data from the social Web… “They need to listen, measure what’s happening with their audience, analyze it, and then figure out a way to engage their customers.”  Viralheat monitors tweets, blog posts, video uploads, discussion on Facebook pages, and other social data sources. A user can be quite specific about what she wants to monitor… tool collects data that fits the bill and lets customers view them individually or as graphs that show broader trends…The software also tries to identify the mood of a conversation, and to figure out who the main influencers are. To do this, Viralheat uses natural language processing techniques and a set of proprietary algorithms that tag posts as either “positive” or “negative” in tone. Kadam stresses that this is not the same as looking for simple phrases such as “this is cool” or “this stinks.” Instead, he says, the company trains its system regularly using sets of data taken from real social media sites, to ensure it recognizes complex statements and stays accurate and up-to-date.

    O.  Google Buzz

    unveiling a new “Google Buzz” feature that sets up a face-off with Facebook…The feature unveiled Tuesday will enable Gmail users to create status updates on Google Buzz and read and comment on the updates posted by their friends…Other tools turn Gmail into a showcase for sharing video, pictures and Web links to interesting stories, just as users can on Facebook and Twitter… Facebook now has more than 400 million worldwide users, many of whom post information that can’t be indexed by Google’s search engine. Facebook’s large audience also threatens to siphon away some of Google’s advertising sales.

    N.  Welcome to your brain

    A Conversation With Samuel Wang…A Neuroscientist Studying the Structure of Dog Brains … His book, “Welcome to Your Brain,” was named 2009 Young Adult Science Book of the Year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Next semester, he will offer a first for Princeton: an undergraduate course called “Neuroscience and Everyday Life.”… asked my biology instructor a question about neurotransmission. He kind of smirked at me and said, “Nobody knows the answer to that.”… In the last three years, we’ve gotten connectomics, where people are taking a bit of tissue and mapping every connection in it. And there’s optogenetics — I’m doing a lot of that — where you express some fluorescent protein in some tissue that allows us to see individual cells and watch the change… We are developing ways to look into brain tissue while it is thinking. The tools are optical, like the microscopes I build to observe and manipulate synapse function… At the vet’s office, there were all these M.R.I.’s sitting around, hundreds of them, and it struck me: “Hey, dogs aren’t covered by Hipaa! Their records aren’t confidential!”…It was like discovering a goldmine of data. We’ve since gotten all these veterinarians on Long Island and in Maryland to donate M.R.I.’s, and we have this huge database. We’re looking for relationships between dog brain size and dog breed characteristics. Australian sheep dogs and poodles can do fairly complex tasks. My pug, he’s very sweet, but he’s not the brightest…There’s actually a lot of scientific literature on breed characteristics, intelligence and temperament. So we check all these M.R.I.’s against these studies, and we’re trying to find structural correlates. This is a huge opportunity to look at the relationship between brain structure and behavior. We’re asking, Do we find a larger cortex?… could tell the difference between a liberal and conservative from F.M.R.I. It made me want to scream. The study was done on very small numbers of people and told us next to nothing about the mental process underlying how we form political opinions.

    O.  Predator goes down

    Often the cause of these is lack of situation awareness from the instruments available – you don’t get the ‘seat of the pants’ sensor –… second time in less than a month, an Air Force MQ-1 Predator has crashed in Afghanistan…The latest accident happened about 1:50 a.m. local time Tuesday, according to Air Forces Central Command. A Predator also went down over southern Afghanistan on Jan. 15… Most recent Predator accidents have been linked to mechanical and electrical problems that aircrews could not overcome

    P.   Transparent Earth

    Darpa is launching the “Transparent Earth” project. They’ll invest $4 million into the creation of real-time, 3-D maps that display “the physical, chemical and dynamic properties of the earth down to 5 kilometer depth.”… The deepest drilling of the planet was a Soviet hole on the Kola Peninsula, which took 19 years and made it around 7.5 miles into the crust, and even NASA still uses land-based GPS signals to predict volcanic eruptions….Rather than a mega-drill, Darpa wants to harness innovations in sensor technology to develop a constantly-updating model of planetary activity. They’ll use sensors to detect “natural indicators of subsurface activity,” and then take advantage of mathematical algorithms designed to estimate various natural earthly phenomena, including geophysical turbulence and shifting tectonic plates…Algorithms are already used in planetary mapping and predictive science, but adding high-tech sensors would provide a constant stream of new data. And that kind of accuracy could have serious planetary implications: Changes in the earth’s crust can explain and predict volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and even the formation of mountain ranges A global three-dimensional picture of the earth’s subsurface with variable spatial, temporal, and information resolution, allowing changes at local scales to propagate through both physical models and proximity rules to update the global picture… what this program is probably really about is detecting, targeting, and destroying hard and buried underground facility (UGF) targets,”… The agency anticipates that the new 3-D models will be available to the Army, Air Force, special operations and intelligence agencies by 2015. 

    Q.  Marjah

    U.S., Afghan Forces Poised to Seize Taliban Stronghold forces pushed Tuesday to the edge of the southern Afghan town of Marjah, poised to seize the major Taliban supply and drug-smuggling stronghold in hopes of building public support by providing aid and services once the insurgents are gone. ..Instead of keeping the offensive secret, Americans have been talking about it for weeks, expecting the Taliban would flee. But the militants appear to be digging in, apparently believing that even a losing fight would rally supporters and sabotage U.S. plans if the battle proves destructive… About 400 U.S. troops from the Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade and about 250 Afghan soldiers moved into positions northeast of Marjah before dawn Tuesday as U.S. Marines pushed to the outskirts of the town… U.S. goal is to take control quickly of the farming community, located in a vast, irrigated swath of land in Helmand province 380 miles southwest of Kabul. That would enable the Afghan government to re-establish a presence, bringing security, electricity, clean water and other public services to the estimated 80,000 inhabitants…Over time, American commanders believe such services will undermine the appeal of the Taliban among their fellow Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in the country and the base of the insurgents’ support…”The military operation is phase one,” Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal told reporters Tuesday in Kabul. “In addition to that, we will have development in place, justice, good governance, bringing job opportunities to the people.”…Marjah will serve as the first trial for the new strategy implemented last year by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. He maintains that success in the eight-year conflict cannot be achieved by killing Taliban fighters, but rather by protecting civilians and winning over their support.

    R.   Can your computer make you happy?

    what if hardware could actually improve your mood?… researchers are seeking ways of using your emotional state as data to drive performance… machines that can recognise our emotions and respond to them are a hot new area in computer design… improving the interface between humans and computers by making computers easier and more intuitive to interact with… but it can’t tell if you’re upset. Building an awareness of human emotions into computers would be very beneficial, whether it’s through facial and smile recognition, through analysing the words you say or type, or monitoring the pitch of your voice or the style of your gestures…Emotion is fundamental to human experience, influencing cognition, perception, and everyday tasks such as learning, communication, and even rational decision-making. However, technologists have largely ignored emotion and created an often-frustrating experience for people, in part because affect has been misunderstood and is hard to measure.”… Asus (creator of the Eee PC) revealed a range of concept computers called Waveface…Every element in the user’s environment, even down to the user’s own physiology and emotional state, can be sources of data to help deliver the right information and services at the right time,” is how Asus described its new wunder products… Asus’s Waveface products will use data about you (from where you are to your emotional state) to help tailor the information and services it offers to what’s relevant to your particular situation. ..To this end, Asus has a concept of an intelligent agent, a sort of invisible avatar for the user, that is built into the computer interface and acts on the user’s behalf…We have what we sometimes call the intelligent agent,” explains Shih, “which tries to help you get what you need at the right time and the right place.”… expect them on the market in three to five years.

    S.   Valor award

    First Lt. Roslyn Schulte put her country before herself cadet at the Air Force Academy… when the call went out for volunteers to Afghanistan, Schulte raised her hand… Schulte has been posthumously awarded the National Intelligence Medal for Valor… second-highest award for valor given by the intelligence community. The highest award, the Intelligence Cross, has never been awarded to a woman… As a foreign disclosure officer, Schulte shared intelligence with Afghan army officers and taught them how to use it 

    T.   Cyber plans by Pentagon

    China-U.S. diplomatic spat over cyberattacks on Google has highlighted the growing significance of the Internet as a theater of combat… appeal to foes who are unable to match the U.S.’s conventional military might. An enemy country could deploy hackers to take down U.S. financial systems, communications and infrastructure… Pentagon is hard at work developing an offensive cyber capability of its own. In fact, it has even begun using that capability to wage war. Beyond merely shutting down enemy systems, the U.S. military is crafting a witch’s brew of stealth, manipulation and falsehoods designed to lure the enemy into believing he is in charge of his forces when in fact they have been secretly enlisted as allies of the U.S. military. And some in Washington fear that there hasn’t been sufficient debate over the proper role of U.S. cyberweapons that are now being secretly developed.

    U.  Cyber security stocks

    Tech-security companies are poised to become Wall Street darlings this year, thanks in part to Google‘s tiff with China… Google-China affair has reinforced an already positive outlook for 2010 stock price performance of major security vendors, such as McAfee, Symantec  (SYMC) and Check Point (CHKP)… companies could decide to accelerate spending on long-deferred business-application upgrades instead of security…Since (Google report of attacks), security firm McAfee (MFE) has signed 16 deals with federal agencies to begin pilot tests of technology to deflect such attacks… Worldwide spending on tech security rose 6% to $26 billion in 2009, and is expected to grow 9% to $28.3 billion this year… Security firms have already benefited. McAfee shares closed Wednesday at $38.18, up 23.8% from its Feb. 3, 2009, closing price. Over the same 12-month span, Symantec’s shares have risen 13.5% to $17.26 and Check Point’s 40.9% to $32.61.

    V.   Representing abstract thoughts physically

    Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time… As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore… directionality was clear and consistent…The new study, published in January in the journal Psychological Science, is part of the immensely popular field called embodied cognition, the idea that the brain is not the only part of us with a mind of its own…“How we process information is related not just to our brains but to our entire body,” said Nils B. Jostmann of the University of Amsterdam. “We use every system available to us to come to a conclusion and make sense of what’s going on.”… Students who had recently been cradling the warm beverage were far likelier to judge the fictitious character as warm and friendly than were those who had held the iced coffee… body embodies abstractions the best way it knows how: physically 
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