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May 17, 2006

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Women's Career Choices Influenced More by Culture Than Biology
Penn State Live (05/16/06)

Ignoring the diversity of the workforce, U.S. IT companies stubbornly cling to blanket policies for all workers, particularly women, according to Eileen Trauth, professor of information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State University. "Policy makers, educators, managers need to recognize that you can't generalize to all women," said Trauth. "There is far too much variation in the paths that women take for anyone to assume that women's career motivations are the same, their methods of balancing work and family are the same, or their responses to motherhood are the same." Trauth interviewed 167 female IT professionals in the United States, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, and presented her findings at the recent 2006 ACM conference on computer-personnel research. Trauth found that a host of factors, including gender stereotypes, societal messages, and family dynamics can affect a woman's career choice. She also found that women respond differently to stereotypes of motherhood, career, and gender, reinforcing her conviction that blanket policies ignore the complexities of female workers. "What would be inappropriate is to look at a young woman and presume that she will get married, or that she will have children, or that she will leave the workforce if she does have children," Trauth said. "Organizations shouldn't have HR policies based on gender stereotypes because people are motivated by different things--salary, job security, flexible work schedules." Trauth, who co-authored the paper with PSU doctoral students Jeria Quesenberry and Haiyan Huang, suggests that stereotyping could be the reason why women's participation in IT fell from 41 percent in 1996 to 32.4 percent in 2004. For information on ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org.
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Sun Promises to Open-Source Java
CNet (05/16/06) Evers, Joris

After years of pressure from open-source advocates, Sun Microsystems announced that it will open the entire Java language, once it resolves the implementation and compatibility issues. "The question is not whether we will open-source Java, the question is how," said CEO Jonathan Schwartz at this week's JavaOne conference. Sun executives would not specify a time frame for completion of the process. Sun expects the release of Java under an Open Source Initiative license to broaden its base of users, just as opening Solaris caused a dramatic surge in the operating system's user base. "It just grows the tent," said Schwartz, adding that additional users will boost Sun's revenue through increased demand for services and support. IBM, a major Java user and one of Sun's main competitors, supports the move, and even offered to help Sun make the transition. "Java has grown in popularity, but the rate and pace of innovation has been limited by the degree of openness Sun was willing to embrace," said IBM's Rod Smith.
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SCAMPI Trawls the Internet
IST Results (05/17/06)

To improve the flow of traffic on today's increasingly complex networks, researchers working under the European Union's SCAMPI project developed a software and hardware combination to create novel, open-source applications to monitor networks and clear up bottlenecks. In addition to gauging how much capacity is being used, monitoring tools can keep tabs on the types of traffic passing over a network. "It's a niche application," said Kevin Meynell, SCAMPI project manager. "But it's an important one, and I think it will become more important as we seek to create more efficient use of the bandwidth we have." SCAMPI, or Scaleable Monitoring Platform for the Internet, was launched to address the increasing difficulty of monitoring traffic as network speeds continue to accelerate. Project developers created a host of programmable PCI-based adapters known as COMBO, which serves as the hardware that facilitates network traffic and monitors connections with speeds up to 10 Gbps. The team also developed three interface cards that physically connect with the Internet via both copper and optical connections. The open hardware is distinctive both because earlier models were proprietary and because it provides high-speed monitoring at a relatively low cost. The researchers also developed a middleware package, the Monitoring Application Programming Interface (MAPI), to process network flows. MAPI handles applications with a conventional API, enabling it to serve as a universal adapter. Numerous complementary applications offer enhanced capabilities, such as scanning for unusual network traffic to protect against denial-of-service attacks.
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Panning E-Waste for Gold
New York Times (05/17/06) P. 8; Moran, Susan

Each month, Hewlett-Packard's two major recycling centers process 1.5 million pounds of computer monitors, keyboards, game consoles, and other discarded electronic items, many of which contain precious metals such as gold, silver, and palladium. "We want these valuable resources put back into the economy in some way, shape, or form," said Renee St. Denis, who directs Hewlett-Packard's recycling operations in the Western hemisphere. Electronics manufacturers are generally becoming more environmentally conscious, weaning themselves away from toxic materials and taking greater responsibility for recycling. The shift comes with an eye toward the bottom line, however, as manufacturers seek to avoid potential lawsuits and regulatory fines. The European Union has passed several environmental provisions, including heavy restrictions on the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, and three other deadly materials frequently used in electronic equipment. Several major companies have begun curtailing their use of lead in monitors, looking instead to liquid-crystal displays, and Sony spent six years developing a tin-silver-copper alloy solder with the same properties as lead. Some Japanese companies have begun replacing petroleum-based plastics in the casings for cell phones with biopolymers formed from plants such as corn. Biopolymers present numerous engineering problems, however, including their relative brittleness, intolerance to heat, and the fact that some of the compounds that researchers add to strengthen them cancel out their environmental benefits. Americans traded in or discarded more than 63 million computers last year, but watchdog groups warn that around 80 percent of the electronics equipment that is collected for recycling winds up in landfills in developing nations, and the United States has been slow to enact regulatory policies governing electronics disposal.
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Growing Geek Gap Gnaws U.S. Firms
Investor's Business Daily (05/15/06) P. A7; Deagon, Brian

The lack of interest among U.S. students in math and science could lead to a critical shortage of skilled technical workers, experts warn. Companies looking to replace the talent that has collectively been responsible for the bulk of U.S. innovation for the past three decades will begin finding fewer qualified graduates to fill the skilled positions. The NSF estimates that the demand for science and engineering graduates will increase 26 percent by 2012, amounting to 1.25 million new jobs. The schools are falling far short of the demand, though the government and private sector are working to address the shortage. Cisco, Intel, and other tech companies spend millions on contests and scholarships to kindle interest in the sciences, and Cisco recently held a panel addressing U.S. competitiveness that included President Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as 250 technology leaders. The United States faces increased demand for jobs in its rapidly growing tech-manufacturing sector as it competes in a flattened global marketplace against countries such as China, which are spending more and more on science and technology. U.S. companies had been supplementing their worker needs with foreign students who came to U.S. institutions under the H-1B program, though in the wake of the dot-com collapse and the Sept. 11 attacks, the program has been curtailed sharply. The NSF reports that Asia produces engineering degrees at four times the rate of the United States, a trend that the lack of proficiency among K-12 students is only likely to exacerbate. "By the fourth grade, if students don't catch the math and science train, they get derailed and the problems get compounded as they go up," said Jeetan Singh, CEO of HighPointsLearning.com. Politicians of both parties agree that there is a problem, and numerous bills have been introduced to address it, as well as President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative, which pledges to increase basic research funding and strengthen education.
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UI's Beckman Institute Blazes Trail for Interdisciplinary Research
Associated Press (05/13/06) Paul, Jim

The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology has become a leading research center over the years, and is now viewed as the nation's model for interdisciplinary research. The facility on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign brings together scientists and researchers from a wide range of academic disciplines to focus on broad areas involving biological intelligence, human-computer intelligent interaction, and molecular and electronic nanostructures. Current projects include the use of imaging technology to determine how the human brain processes sound, and the development of hearing aids that can pick out a voice in a noisy room. "Where else could I go where I would have the opportunity to just walk across the hall and talk with world-class researchers in areas that I need to know about in order to do my research in the best way?" asks Jennifer Cole, a linguist who works with electrical engineers, biologists, and psychologists to understand how humans process language. "How much more convenient could it get?" About 90 percent of Beckman's annual budget of millions of dollars comes from the federal government, corporations, and other private sources. The 110 full-time and part-time faculty at Beckman are joined by several hundred researchers, graduate assistants, and postdoctoral fellows.
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High Court Rejects Patent Rulings Against eBay
Washington Post (05/16/06) P. D5; Lane, Charles; Noguchi, Yuki

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of eBay in a patent infringement lawsuit brought against the online auction service by MercExchange, by throwing out an appeals court decision that would have shuttered eBay's "Buy It Now" feature and ordering a federal district judge to restart the case. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court's opinion that the lower courts should apply "traditional equitable principles" in revisiting the case, arguing that degree of harm to the patent owner, the sufficiency of monetary damages, the "balance of hardships" between the patent owner and infringer, and the public interest are consistent in all kinds of cases, not just patent cases. The ruling fell short of many people's expectations that patent law would need to be radically reconfigured, since the court refused to decide whether the Patent Act basically requires the court to deploy an injunction banning an infringer from using a patented invention. The court's ruling could be partially explained by a desire not to flout Congress' own efforts to address the beleaguered patent system. Though the court's opinion was unanimous, some members held sympathy for eBay, while others were more sympathetic toward the plaintiff. Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred with Justices David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and Stephen Breyer that the lower courts should concentrate on the problem of "patent trolls," or parties that collect patents and make money by enforcing them rather than practicing them. More in MercExchange's corner were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who wrote a separate concurring opinion citing the historical precedent for granting injunctions to patent holders.
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Divining Tech's Future This Pundit's Idea of Fun
Seattle Times (05/16/06) Dudley, Brier

Technology leaders, investors, and journalists recently converged on San Diego for Future in Review, or FiRe, an annual technology conference hosted by entrepreneur and consultant Mark Anderson where attendees discuss the pressing issues and trends in the technology industry, such as robotics, broadband mobile devices, and nanotechnology. This year, speakers at FiRe included Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, and Google's Larry Brilliant. Participants acknowledged that the industry is at a tipping point, where PC-focused companies such as Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, and Intel have been losing market share while the increased demand for mobile devices has returned some of the luster to telecommunications companies. In identifying the major trends that will affect the future, Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo identified the emergence of China and India and the concurrent decline of Europe, the global rise in life expectancy that will lead to new demands for simplified functions and interfaces, and the growing dependence on online relationships. Genome research and experimentation could bring about another industrial revolution as biologists use supercomputers to model and commercialize the evolutionary properties of various species, according to Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology. Premji noted the strides that India has made in protecting its intellectual property, while China has shown little interest in enforcing its anti-piracy laws. Symantec CEO John Thompson warned that Macs can no longer be seen as immune from security threats, now that more hackers are targeting individual users, irrespective of the system they use, rather than the traditional broad attack that mainly affected PC users.
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Congress May Make ISPs Snoop on You
CNet (05/16/06) McCullagh, Declan

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is set to introduce legislation as early as this week that would require ISPs to record information about U.S. Internet users' online activities so that police can more easily "conduct criminal investigations." The legislation--called the Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth (SAFETY) Act--is likely to be controversial because it would significantly change U.S. laws regarding the protection of Americans' Web surfing habits. ISPs currently discard any log file that is no longer required for business reasons such as network monitoring, fraud prevention, or billing disputes, although they do make exceptions when contacted by police conducting an investigation. Critics such as Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg says Sensenbrenner's legislation is too vague. Instead of specifically describing exactly what information ISPs would be required to keep about their users, the legislation gives the attorney general broad discretion in drafting regulations. At minimum, the proposal says, user names, physical addresses, IP addresses, and subscribers' phone numbers must be retained. That generous wording could allow the attorney general to order ISPs to keep records of email correspondents, Web pages visited, and even the contents of communications. Despite the controversy, the legislation has garnered the support of state law enforcement agencies, which say strict data retention laws will help them investigate crimes that have taken place awhile ago.
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The Great Singularity Debate
ZDNet (05/13/06) Farber, Dan

At the recent Singularity Summit at Stanford University, 12 panelists convened to discuss the concept of singularity--the notion that machine intelligence will one day eclipse human intelligence, and that the process will accelerate exponentially as smarter minds continue creating still smarter minds. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, father of the singularity theory, discussed the highlights of his recent book, "The Singularity Is Near." Kurzweil believes that the law of accelerating returns will propel intelligence into the nonbiological realm and increase its capacity by orders of magnitude. "In this new world, there will be no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality," he writes. "Human aging and illness will be reversed; pollution will be stopped; world hunger and poverty will be solved. Nanotechnology will make it possible to create virtually any physical product using inexpensive information processes and will ultimately turn even death into a soluble problem." Kurzweil looks to the history of technological advancement to defend the theory of accelerating returns. The exponential advancement of technology will lead to the singularity within a few decades in Kurzweil's estimation. He predicts that cell phones will be capable of real-time language translation within a few years. Kurzweil also believes that the whole genome of the human brain can be captured in around 20 MB, and that its computing power should be available in a PC for $1,000 by 2020. Douglas Hofstader, professor of cognitive science and computer science at the University of Indiana, followed Kurzweil with his critique of the singularity theory. From a human perspective, there are troubling implications for uploading the whole of one's self into cyberspace, such as what constitutes the essence of a human who is basically software.
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Re-engineering the Research Process
NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) (05/02/06) Myers, Jim

NCSA is focusing on researching and developing the advanced management and connection capabilities that scientists and engineers will demand of cyberenvironments in the future, writes NCSA associate director Jim Myers. The integrated, end-to-end software systems promise to usher in a new day of seamless cyberinfrastructure accessibility and usability, helping to ensure that the loss of human knowledge does not become an unintended consequence of modern technology. Aside from developing more sophisticated service abstractions, NCSA is at work on new capabilities for automating or semi-automating processes. Those include visual knowledge discovery, which involves the use of data analysis to categorize, cluster, and extract features from large data sets, along with interactive visualization. New tools for managing semantic information about data and resources will enable functions such as provenance tracking, annotation, and collaborative data curation. Meanwhile, technologies such as Web and grid services, translating or integrating middleware, global unique identifiers and metadata, workflow and provenance, and semantic descriptions of resources and data are all being used to align cyberinfrastructure with cyberenvironments. Although cyberenvironments are viewed as a gateway for accessing all sorts of computing capabilities from sensor arrays to visualization tools, NCSA sees their potential in re-engineering science and engineering research processes.
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Fragmented Domain Names Could Destabilize Internet--ICC Warns
ag-IP-news (05/13/06)

A seven-page report released by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) warns against the decentralization of the domain naming systems and urges quicker integration of IDNs. "Unless this process is carefully and centrally implemented, domain names may lead to fragmentation and threaten the stability, integrity, and security of the Internet," said Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, chair of ICC's Commission on E-business, IT and Telecoms, publisher of the paper. The warning comes as China, Russia, and Brazil consider their own domain naming systems to offset the perceived policy monopoly held by the United States through ICANN. The report recommends that UNICODE continue to be used and that oversight of the naming system remain under one body, ICANN. "The introduction of IDNs is an important step towards true global diffusion of the Internet," says ICC Internet and IT Services Task Force Chair Allen Miller. "Multiple authorities would pose serious problems for the protection of intellectual property rights, would marginalize Internet users in the developing world, and create islands of users blocked from full global access." The report also suggests the creation of a classification system for domain names to help prevent conflicts over trademark rights.
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Java Inches Closer to Open Source
CNet (05/16/06) LaMonica, Martin

Sun Microsystems will release the source code for another round of Java applications, including its portal and integration software, at the JavaOne conference on Tuesday. Sun is also expected to discuss the Java Distribution License, which makes the desktop Java Runtime Environment more compatible with Linux. The announcements come as Sun is transitioning to an open-source business model and working to accommodate more development languages. Java now receives most of its innovative thrust from open-source development projects and scripting languages. Sun's new strategy is to generate more revenue from offering support for open-source software products and to form deeper connections with developers, who often guide corporate purchasing decisions. Sun's open-source approach has rejuvenated interest in the Solaris operating system and the Java Enterprise System. However, Sun is facing increased competition from alternative languages to Java, especially for writing Web applications. Sun's response is to make Java more compatible with these dynamic languages to ensure that Java remains relevant in a development atmosphere looking increasingly to faster, simpler languages.
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Scan This Book!
New York Times Magazine (05/14/06) P. 42; Kelly, Kevin

The promise of a universal library--a virtual repository of all human works that anyone in the world can access--resides in its ability to make all books searchable by weaving them together through word/sentence links and public annotations, turning reading into a communal activity. With all works thus interconnected, it is believed that even the most obscure works will find an audience, our comprehension of history will be deepened, a new sense of authority will be nurtured, and Web search will support a novel infrastructure for wholly unique services and functions. A universal library will provide users with the means to organize virtual bookshelves thanks to ubiquitous snippets, articles, and pages of books that can be shuffled and transferred; such collections could become a source of distinction and maybe income for users. The sole reason for the universal library's painfully slow growth is the indefinite extension of copyright, which has led to a situation in which about 75 percent of the world's 32 million archived books are orphan works, about 15 percent are in the public domain, and about 10 percent are actively in print. The bulk of U.S. libraries' book digitization effort is concentrated on the 15 percent or so of all books in the public domain, while the roughly 10 percent of books still in print should be digitized soon; the remaining three-quarters of the world's books are not open to scanning because their copyright status is unknown, and current copyright law prevents any of these orphans from reverting to the public domain until 2019. Google crafted a plan to scan orphan works but only show limited snippets of those works, allowing copyright holders to ask for the snippets' removal if proof of ownership was established, but the plan hit a snag when publishers and authors alleged that such use infringed on copyright. The business model based on the mass production of cheap copies, which has benefited creators as well as audiences by removing the need for patronage, is on the verge of obsolescence because digital technologies are making free copies ubiquitous, and raising the value of how these copies are connected, annotated, reorganized, translated, bookmarked, and incorporated into the universal library. It is expected that copyright law will ultimately adapt to digitization and furnish a business model where creators only receive copyright if they make their works searchable.
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More Visas, Less Work
CIO (05/15/06) Vol. 19, No. 15, P. 24; Gross, Grant

Information technology workers continue to claim that tech companies are using H-1B visas to obtain cheaper labor overseas, but many companies are expressing concern over whether the industry will face a labor shortage in the near future. Microsoft and other tech companies that are pressing Congress to raise the limit on the H-1B visa program scored a victory in March when a U.S. Senate committee voted to raise the annual cap from 65,000 to 115,000, allow for additional increases once the new limit is reached, and eliminate any caps for advanced-degree holders. Congress has started debating the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which includes the H-1B visa provisions. "U.S. businesses should have access to the best and brightest workers in the world," Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims. A new report from the Society for Information Management indicates that technology executives are uneasy about the prospect of filling entry-level programmer and systems analyst positions. During the hearing, John Miano, a computer programmer for 18 years, said companies pay foreign programmers $13,000 less. "We should not have a visa program that allows an employer to lay off U.S. workers in favor of cheaper foreign labor," added Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).
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Microsoft Researcher Honored
EE Times (05/08/06)No. 1422, P. 54; Mokhoff, Nicolas

Microsoft's George Robertson, the human-computer interaction pioneer who coined the term "information visualization," was recently inducted into the CHI Academy for his contributions to the field. Microsoft's research into the human-computer interface began with Robertson's hiring in 1996, and the concept of information visualization has attracted the attention of military, business, and intelligence leaders. Information visualization aims to present data in innovative formats using color graphics or animation that provide an interactive experience. Robertson also sits on the National Visualization and Analytics Center Panel at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which conducts analysis of information gathered on terrorist activities. "The problem is huge," said Robertson. "In one database alone there are 120 billion documents, and the pace is that 1 million documents are changed every hour when searching for clues. That requires an enormous effort to show graphically." At his induction ceremony, Robertson presented two papers describing Microsoft's latest work, including a comparison of different graphical software interfaces that found that the type of task information provided varies in accordance with the level of abstraction. The study measured interactions at the levels of scaling, which displays the layout of a window; change detection, which measures whether any changes occurred; semantic-content extraction, which displays a small amount of content in the most relevant window; and a mixture of change detection and semantic-content extraction. The second paper outlined a new technique for using a mobile phone to search through large data sets using iterative data filtering to lessen the reliance on keyword text entry.
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John Koza Has Built an Invention Machine
Popular Science (05/06) Vol. 268, No. 5, P. 66; Keats, Jonathon

Stanford University adjunct professor John Koza's "invention machine" is a network of 1,000 PCs that creates innovative new designs without human guidance through genetic programming based on Darwinian evolution. The process induces bits of computer code to sire successively superior offspring until the final generation is so supremely well-adapted for its assigned function that it outclasses any product of human conception. In creating the invention machine, Koza focused on addressing the shortcomings of genetic algorithms and artificial intelligence and then combining the two: The algorithms were unable to develop creative solutions to problems, while AI's performance was not living up to its promise. The machine randomly generates designs, measures their fitness rating, and then combines or mates some designs, redistributing their properties into their offspring. Offspring that exhibit an improved fitness rating are retained, while offspring with a low fitness rating are weeded out. The invention machine evolves new designs within one day or one month. A testament to the machine's success was a U.S. patent awarded to an invention it created to boost factory efficiency, without the examiner realizing that the inventor was non-human. Koza's next goal is to use genetic programming to invent something that is commercially successful. Regardless, Koza believes that genetic programming will become pervasive in the next 10 years, providing an efficient method for solving difficult engineering problems.
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Bringing DNA Computers to Life
Scientific American (05/06) Vol. 294, No. 5, P. 44; Shapiro, Ehud; Benenson, Yaakov

Computers composed of biological molecules do not seem so far-fetched in consideration of the fact that natural molecular machines process information in much the same manner as the Turing machine. Both the Turing machine and natural automata have demonstrated the ability to store data in strings of symbols, process these strings in a stepwise pattern, and modify or add symbols in keeping with fixed rules. DNA and enzymes assembled into a Turing-like automaton can carry out computations, receive input from other molecules, and produce a discernible output, such as a signal or a therapeutic drug. This organic device illustrates the feasibility of the concept and could find useful application as a medical tool. In a DNA computer, the ribosome reads data encoded in gene transcripts, or messenger RNAs (mRNAs), and converts it into amino acid sequences to form proteins; mRNA's symbolic alphabet consists of nucleotide trios or codons that each correlate to a specific amino acid. The ribosome processes the mRNA strand on a codon-by-codon basis, and the proper amino acid is delivered by transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules, which verify the codon match and then release the amino acid to join the expanding chain. Scientists Ehud Shapiro and Yaakov Benenson created an autonomous, programmable molecular computer that could run itself on its input molecule and theoretically process any input molecule with a fixed number of hardware and software molecules without ever running down, and they have outlined a biomolecular Turing machine that harnesses the molecules' ability to identify symbols and assemble molecular subunits together. Once they proved that DNA/enzyme automata can perform abstract yes-or-no computations, the scientists developed a device that can determine whether disease indicators are present and release a drug molecule if the diagnosis is positive.
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