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CACM Reports: Tracking Cell Phone Data to Study Human Mobility

January Issue Reports on the Expanding Definition of Robots, Improving Computer Leakage Resilience, Similarities of Condos and Clouds, and Computer Security for In-Home Technology

The Association for Computing Machinery
Advancing Computing as a Science & Profession

Contact: Virginia Gold

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NEW YORK – December 20, 2012 – Cellular telephone networks produce data that reveals important patterns of mobility cheaply, frequently, and on a global scale, according to an AT&T Research team. In the January cover story of Communications of the ACM, the group analyzed billions of call records to determine location information, which offers applications for urban planning.  Relying on measures to preserve the privacy of individual cell phone users, the team discovered techniques for accurately characterizing daily travel, carbon emissions, number of workers and event goers, and traffic volumes.  Also in this issue, Communications Editor-in-Chief Moshe Y. Vardi posits that the focus on Alan Turing during the Turing Centenary celebrations is deserving, but does not do full justice to the rich story of how computing emerged between 1930 and 1950.

In his column, ACM President Vint Cerf asks "What's a Robot?" and suggests that the notion could be expanded to include programs that can have real-world, if not physical, effect.  In this context, he cites as a robot the creation of software-based "universes," and invites these creators to consider increased safety and reliability of software products and services.

Communications, the flagship publication of ACM, offers readers access to this generation's most significant leaders and innovators in computing and information technology, and is available online in digital format.

Other Communications highlights:

  • Science and technology writer Neil Savage reports on schemes to make computing more leakage resilient as more computing moves into the cloud and onto smartphones and tablets.  He cites research by Microsoft’s Guy Rothblum and MIT’s Shafi Goldwasser who created a compiler that can slow down the computation substantially to improve resiliency.
  • Consultant Phillip Armour examines a pattern in building software that often finds programmers describing progress as "90% complete."  He identifies several reasons for this phenomenon and proposes a model based on preparation, production, and proving to approximate time more accurately.
  • Technology veteran Pat Helland compares cloud computing to condo living and finds they both run on shared infrastructure and benefit from flexibility and cost savings as well as constraints that empower sharing and concierge service.  He shows how constraining a Software as a Service application makes it possible to provide many concierge services that ease the development of a cloud-based application. 
  • Jeremiah Grossman, founder and CTO at WhiteHat Security, leads a discussion of browser security with a group assembled by ACM.  They break down mythical claims of security in today’s browsers and argue the case for increased protection.  Participants include Ben Livshits, Rebecca Base, and George Neville-Neil. 
  • A team of researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, surveys potential computer security attacks against in-home technologies that have expanded from laptops, televisions and gaming consoles to healthcare devices, children’s toys and the home's infrastructure.  They propose a framework for identifying key risks associated with these devices to improve the efficacy, interoperability, and usability of computer security solutions. 
  • Blog @CACM blogger Daniel reed writes about straddling the intellectual divide between technology experts and policymakers by being "bilingual."

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About ACM
ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the computing profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.