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October 23, 2006

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Welcome to the October 23, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Researchers See Privacy Pitfalls in No-Swipe Credit Cards
New York Times (10/23/06) P. C1; Schwartz, John

A recent paper spells out potential security risks involved with the radio frequency identification (RFID) technology being implemented in a new generation of contactless credit cards. As part of a consortium of industry and academic researchers financed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Tom Heydt-Benjamin, a computer science graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, and Kevin Fu, a computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts, attempted and were successful in retrieving unencrypted information, including the cardholder's name, stored on 20 different RFID credit cards using a device they constructed themselves for $150. American Express claims that its cards use 128-bit encryption, and J.P. Morgan Chase says that they "use the highest level of encryption allowed by the U.S. government." Visa's Brian Tripplet says, "This is an interesting exercise, but as a real threat to a consumer--that threat doesn't really exist." The companies claim that every RFID transaction is unique, making it impossible to just read information off a card and use this to make purchases. However, the researchers found some cards that used the same information for every transaction, and they were actually able to make a purchase online using information scanned off of a credit card. The credit card companies point to fraud detection and the blocking of suspicious purchases, to assure that customers will not be liable for fraudulent activity. The chips used in such cards are capable of airtight encryption, but enabling this function causes slower transactions and greater costs, and companies such as Exxon have come under fire for lax security measures. Aviel D. Rubin, professor of computer security at Johns Hopkins University, says, "There is a certain amount of privacy that consumers expect, and I believe that the credit card companies have crossed the line." Tens of millions of RFID cards have been issued to this point, and credit card companies are currently in the process of removing card holder names from the data transmitted by their RFID cards.
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Robot Race Winners No Longer Cashing In
Associated Press (10/21/06) Chang, Alice

A recent defense spending bill signed into law this week forbids DARPA from awarding the planned $2.7 million prize for the research team whose smart vehicle wins a 2007 contest that involves management of simulated traffic. The absence of a such a prize has forced some teams to change their strategy and others to simply quit. There is a fear that a lack of prize money would make attracting corporate sponsors much more difficult and hurt media coverage of the race, which has drawn many reporters in the past, as well as being the subject of a PBS documentary. "The icing on the cake is gone," says Ivar Schoenmyer, the leader of Team CyberRider. Last year 195 teams entering the competition, a race through the desert, had to raise their own money. This year, of the 89 teams that entered, 11 were given seed money by DARPA, a decision made independently of the ban on prize money. Some dropped out after not receiving any seed money, and tried to sell off the technology they had developed to other teams. "When you're trying hard to scrape money together just to buy a sensor and another team can just drop money to buy the same thing, it's hard to be competitive," says Michael Vest, a team leader. Others, such as Stanford team leader Sebastian Thrun, are not discouraged. "Having prize money is a great additional motivator...I'm sad to see that lost, but that's not going to affect my willingness to compete." Team CyberRider, an all-volunteer team, has decided to invite programmers from all over the world to share algorithms, and has turned to Wiki software to encourage collaboration, in order to conserve time and money. "I'm not saying it will be successful, but it's the only way we can participate." William "Red" Whittaker of Carnegie Mellon, whose teams placed both second and third in the desert race, says, "No one is dreaming of big bank accounts or struck by lottery fever. People are out there to innovate."
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Microsoft Research Asia in ACM Multimedia Spotlight
Microsoft Research (10/20/06) Knies, Rob

Microsoft Research Asia accounts for 10.4 percent of the 48 papers accepted for the ACM's Multimedia 2006 conference to be held in Santa Barbara, Calif., from October 23-27, 2006. "This is the top conference in the field of multimedia...Most experts in this field attend this meeting," says Xian-Sheng Hua, who will present the paper submitted by his Microsoft Research Asia team from Beijing. His excitement over the importance of the conference trumps even the prestige he feels for his paper being accepted. "The conference is mainly for communication, actually," he says. "We need to keep our research close to the trends of the field. We will present our works and also listen to others' works and talk together to see what we may do in the future. Sometimes we need to talk to other researchers in the world to discuss directions, what may be promising to solve very difficult problems." Researchers from around the globe will be brought together to discuss multimedia content analysis; processing and retrieval; multimedia networking tools, end systems and applications; and foundational science of multimedia. Microsoft Research Asia has contributed a great deal to the conference in past years, presenting posters and papers, taking part in panel discussions, providing demos, giving tutorials, and serving on many different committees. This year they will present five papers in four different sessions. "We will focus on the very hottest research topics," says Hua.
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Computer Educators Get Their Game On
Investor's Business Daily (10/23/06) P. A4; Vallone, Julie

As the U.S. continues to struggle producing graduates in technology-based fields, Carnegie Mellon University has developed Alice, a program intended to spur interest in computer programming in young children. Alice is a 3D learning tool in which children make miniature movies using a cut and paste programming language that they can understand, similar to the refrigerator word magnets that can be rearranged to form sentences. Teaching computer programming to children would usually be nearly impossible, because "you have to type in everything accurately, you can't make syntax errors and you can't see the results of your work until much later," says Randy Pausch, director of the Alice program. "We've found that making movies is highly compelling to students." The NSF reports that the use of Alice increases retention of college students from Computer Science 1 (first semester freshman year) to Computer Science 2 (second semester freshman year) from 47 percent to 88 percent, with students getting better grades. Electronic Arts, a video game manufacturer, has approached CMU to develop a version of Alice using their popular Sims platform. The plan is to produce a high-quality, more intricate Sims game in two years. Another strategy being implemented are workshops known as Teacher Enhancement in Computer Science (TECS), that are being used to give teachers the necessary skills to interest students in computer science. Both TECS and the synthesis of Alice/Sims aim to attract a greater percentage of females to the field of computer science. From now until 2012, demand for IT professionals will grow 50 percent, according to a recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Other research shows that the US won't be able to meet such a demand. UCLA recently reported a 60 percent drop in the number of computer science majors across the U.S.
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Meetings of Minds -- How technology Can Help
IST Results (10/20/06)

An IST project known as Augmented Multi-party Interaction (AMI) has taken on the task of deriving the highest degree of utility from the business meeting. The system built by the project records meeting content and makes it navigable for later review. "We developed a special meetings browser, so that the archived audio and video data can be navigated in terms of topic, and summary and skim-through versions can be viewed," says AMI project leader Steve Renals, of Edinburgh University in the UK. Since 2004, when the project began, digital pens, cameras, and recorders have been used to "capture everything that happens when a number of people interact," says Renals. Scenario meetings have been used to develop and test the technology, and those involved have responded well. The end date for the project is December 2006, so the new challenge is to implement the technology into meetings in real time. To meet this demand, the Augmented Multiparty Interaction with Distance Access (AMIDA) project, which will run until September 2009, has been developed with the aim of creating a new generation of real-time video conferencing. Conference calls over the telephone make communication difficult because body language is not available to aid understanding, "so with AMIDA, we're looking at ways of using information from audio and visual sources to compensate for this--something that could inform people when participants look bored with a certain topic, for example," explains Renal.
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Machine Nation
Pittsburgh City Paper (10/19/06) Levine, Marty

The debate about the reliability and security of electronic voting systems is still raging, and it does not show any signs of abating as the November elections approach. Studies of Diebold e-voting machines found vulnerabilities to tampering and malware that could be exploited to commit electoral fraud; indeed, some people think a race in Pennsylvania's recent primary election was affected by such problems. "[V]oters have no real assurance that their votes were counted," says Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor David Eckhardt. He notes that voting machine companies are often unwilling to allow third parties to examine their software, which fuels doubts about reliability. Experts believe paper ballots should be included in direct recording electronic systems (DREs), but in Pennsylvania such measures have been stymied by privacy issues. Other suggestions being made include parallel testing, in which a number of machines are randomly pulled from service on Election Day by an independent testing body that feeds them a pre-scripted set of votes to determine whether the machines properly recorded and tabulated their choices. Software auditing, meanwhile, could be used to address any concerns that the systems' workings are operating accordingly. Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science professor Michael Shamos defends the security and accuracy of computer balloting, but ACM's Barbara Simons doubts his argument that someone wishing to rig an election must know each voting district; she agrees with Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin that neither parallel testing nor software auditing is the answer. Simons says, "What do you do if you find a problem? The election's over. Holding a new election is very hard to do. Our laws are not designed to deal with electronic voting." For more about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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WISP Kicks Off Year With Orientation Programming
Dartmouth Online (NH) (10/20/06) Sosner, Naomi

An initiative at Dartmouth College that hopes to smooth the transition of female science, math, and engineering students to the workforce held its orientation session this week. The Women in Science Project (WISP) provides female students access to a network of professionals in science, math, and engineering who can continue to encourage and inspire them and provide them with work opportunities. Female students participating in WISP's Peer Mentoring Program (PMP) met their new mentors, and heard a faculty panel discuss their experiences in science. PMP matches first-year students with upperclassmen who share a similar major, academic interests, and extracurricular activities, as a way to assist the new students academically and socially. Another WISP initiative is the First-Year Research Internship, which allows freshman to interview for paid lab research internships for the Winter and Spring semesters. "The whole issue is that women don't perceive their ability the same way men do," says Kathy Scott Weaver, director of WISP. Nonetheless, these days more females are studying math and science compared with decades ago. "Things were a lot more challenging in those times, not having role models or mentors in my field," says WISP faculty adviser and biology professor Sharon Bickel.
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Robot Swarm Works Together to Shift Heavy Objects
New Scientist (10/17/06) Simonite, Tom

Marco Dorigo from the Free University in Brussels, Belgium, is heading a project to develop a swarm of robots that would be able to work together in a human environment. Dorigo, with help from other robotics researchers at the Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology in Italy and the Autonomous Systems Laboratory and the Dalle Molle Institute for the Study of Artificial Intelligence in Switzerland, has already demonstrated six robots working as a group to drag an object across the floor of a room. At 19 centimeters high, the Swarm-bots only act on what they see, and while they do not communicate they are able to carry out complex tasks based on the simple rules of their software. The robots have a rotating turret and a claw-like gripper, move using caterpillar tracks and wheels, and use a basic computer preloaded with the rules that "evolve" for task genetic algorithms and a detailed 3D simulation. "In the future we might have robots that actively seek help from others when they come up with a problem they can't solve alone," says Dorigo. "For example if a robot can't climb an obstacle without tipping over it might go back and get others to climb over as a group." Swarmanoid is the name of the new project, and will feature Swarm-bots that climb, crawl, or fly.
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High Performance Woman
HPC Wire (10/20/06) Vol. 15, No. 42,

Maria Eleftheriou, a researcher at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, is the only female on her research team. She has contributed in many areas, including programming models, parallel algorithms, parallel architecture, and analyzing the performance of parallel scientific applications for the Blue Gene/L architecture. Eleftheriou is also working in collaboration with others on large scale simulation studies of various biochemical mechanisms. Her favorite aspect of her work is the prospect of her research projects being "incorporated into applications." Although trained in theoretical physical chemistry, she began work in high-performance computing as an opportunity to "broaden [her] technical skills and to learn new tools needed to tackle scientific problems using HPC." Eleftheriou is on the Watson Women's Network committee at IBM research, where she helps with activities that "promote opportunities for women in the workplace." The committee also "organiz[es] talks on a spectrum of topics and organiz[es] roundtable events with executives as well as providing a venue for business topics of interest to women." She is also involved in undergraduate education: giving talks and appearing on panels to encourage students to continue studies in science and engineering into graduate school. Her view on women in the field of supercomputing is that they "are a long way away from attaining gender equality...women still represent a small fraction of the researchers in this field and this is unlikely to change soon." She says IBM is very involved in discussing the "underlying issues that present barriers to women who choose scientific or engineering career paths." Her advice to anyone interested in succeeding in this field, especially young women, is to "get out of you comfort zone and seek out new challenges."
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Coder Jobs: Painfully Stable
InformationWeek (10/16/06)No. 1110, P. 20; Chabrow, Eric

The job market for computer programmers in the United States has stabilized over the past three years, after about a 25 percent loss in coder jobs from 2000 to 2003. However, no growth is expected for computer programming jobs, according to the Labor Department. Although the unemployment rate for coders was the same as the overall IT jobless rate of 2.2 percent during the third quarter, the computing programming workforce has 50,000 fewer people than in 2004. The emergence of offshoring, off-the-shelf applications, and other factors made coding the hardest hit IT occupation in the wake of the dot-com bust. Nonetheless, software vendors still need computer programmers to write new applications, and coders also remain in demand to update legacy systems and customize applications. Computer programming is the third-largest IT job category, with coders accounting for 16 percent of all IT workers. For the quarter, total IT employment rose 1 percent from a year ago to 3.47 million, with the number of employed and unemployed IT professionals remaining unchanged at 3.55 million.
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Terrorist Profiling, Version 2.0
National Journal (10/21/06) Vol. 38, No. 42, P. 57; Harris, Shane

The top U.S. intelligence agency is constructing a computerized system designed to mine large information repositories for indications of terrorist planning under the Tangram program, but there seem to be no privacy safeguards. An unclassified government document admits that the use of data mining for terrorist profiling still has significant disadvantages. The document notes that up to now the guilt-by-association model has been the primary template for the derivation of suspicion scores, and this model has had considerable success in instances where a seed entity in a unknown group is known; "However, in the absence of a known seed entity, how do we score a person if nothing is known about their associates?" the document asks. It describes Tangram as a system that "takes a systematic view of the [terrorist-detection] process, applying what is now a set of disjointed, cumbersome-to-configure technologies that are difficult for nontechnical users to apply, into a self-configuring, continuously operating intelligence analysis support system." Intelligence and privacy experts who reviewed the document say that for the Tangram system to effectively tell the difference between terrorists and innocent parties, it must have access to Americans' private information. Also arousing suspicions about Tangram is its oversight by a research and development unit which also runs component programs of the defunct Total Information Awareness (TIA) terrorist profiling program. Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel on privacy for the ACLU, says Tangram is essentially a practical incarnation of the TIA program. Among the shortcomings of terrorist profiling the Tangram document cops to is the difficulty of tracking terrorist behaviors in a constant state of flux, and terrorism researchers' inability to "readily distinguish the absolute scale of normal behaviors" either for terrorists or innocents.
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IPv6 Forum Chief: The New Internet Is Ready for Consumption
Computerworld Australia (11/18/06) McConnachie, Dahna

Today there is a debate about how to create extra IP address space, whether to continue using the Network Address Transition (NAT) system or switch everyone to IPv6, says IPv6 Forum founder Lafif Ladid. When researchers began working on IPv6 in 1995 to increase the amount of Internet addresses available to world citizens, NAT was designed as a temporary fix to provide extra room for Internet addresses through Internet Service Providers (ISPs). NAT does provide additional address space, but only through ISPs and telecoms, which empowers these ISPs and telecoms to act as fee-for-service providers offering VoIP and other offerings. The Internet is designed originally as a flat system, which can "enable peer-to-peer and VoIP," says Ladid, and IPv6 will return the Internet to this structure. Today, 72 percent of Internet traffic is peer-to-peer. IPv6 still will require people to use an ISP to connect to the Internet itself, but it will empower Internet users to do other types of online interactions beyond peer-to-peer communication without having to go through third-party providers such as Skype, says Ladid. The Asian countries will be the first to use IPv6 because they are more focused on Internet innovation today, while the West has begun focusing on generating Internet revenue, says Ladid. He expects China to be the first widespread IPv6 user in the world.
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Support Grows for Federal Paper Ballot Mandate
County News (10/16/06) Vol. 38, No. 19, P. 7; McLaughlin, Alysoun

Advocates of requiring electronic voting machines to leave a paper audit trail debated the issue with opponents during a Sept. 28, 2006, hearing before the House Administration Committee. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has authored the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, and more than half of the House is now believed to be in support of the legislation. In addition to requiring a permanent paper record of votes, H.R. 550 would have the paper serve as the official ballot of record in any recount or audit. During the hearing, Edward Felten, a professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University, showed how a hacker could use a computer virus to taint votes cast on a Diebold electronic voting machine. States have started to address the issue, with 25 already requiring a paper trail to verify votes, and 16 regarding the paper record as the official ballot in a recount. The Help America Vote Act requires counties to invest in electronic voting machines. Though the Federal Voting Systems Guidelines were issued last December, most observers agree that better technology standards and management practices are needed to dispel any doubts about the integrity of electronic voting. For more about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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What's Cooking at Eclipse
SD Times (10/15/06)No. 160, P. 25; Correia, Edward J.

The rollout of Europa, the next Eclipse simultaneous release, in mid 2007 is expected to be preceded by several projects such as Mylar, a plug-in that can improve developer productivity through context-based task management and filtering; Mylar 1.0, which is expected in early December, allows tasks to be stored in a repository as objects, and can watchdog a developer's interactions within Eclipse and automatically identify data relevant to the task at hand. Another project is the Eclipse Process Framework (EPF), which was set for release on Sept. 30 and was designed to be a starting point for the generation of development best practices. Guidance for requirements authoring, library management, and maintenance and publication of methods and processes are included in EPF, while one of the framework's main components, the Open Unified Process, is described by project leader Per Kroll of IBM as "a very light process that covers a complete life cycle of a project from start to end." Expected to debut this year are 1.0 versions of several Device Software Development Platform (DSDP) subprojects. One of those subprojects is embedded RCP (eRCP), a runtime framework for implementing and managing Java plug-ins on devices that is seen as a major upgrade over MIDP 2.0; project lead Mark Rogalski explains that eRCP's Eclipse and OSGi foundation supply the elements of a plug-in architecture and a widget-based application programming interface. Target Management (TM), meanwhile, provides Eclipse with an interface for controlling remote devices and accessing processes through the use of a remote shell. "It uses whatever services are registered with the framework [and is] optimized for as little data transfer as possible," says TM project lead Martin Oberhuber of Wind River.
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Sci-Fi Tech
CIO (10/01/06) Vol. 20, No. 1, P. 35; Fitzgerald, Michael

Some futuristic technologies are on the cusp of a transition from science fiction to reality. Rollable displays--flexible flat-panel screens that replace glass with plastic or organic semiconductors--may soon make their commercial debut, and some of these displays are manufactured with printer-style jet arrays. Holographic hard drives promise far more storage capacity and much faster data transfer rates than current storage systems, and InPhase is planning to roll out a holographic storage system before year's end; the mainstream penetration of holographic storage will depend on lowering costs to a more affordable level. Wireless networks could become faster and more reliable with the advent of cognitive radio, which uses software algorithms to immediately locate open spectrum whenever the normal frequency is occupied. Krishnamurthy Soumyanath of Intel's Communications Circuits Laboratory believes power consumption issues will delay the market premiere of full-fledged cognitive radio until the close of the decade. Development of neural interfaces that establish a brain-computer link is proceeding apace: Commercially available cochlear implants are an early manifestation of this technology, while experimental advancements such as BrainGate, an implanted neural sensor that allows paralyzed people to control a mouse cursor, among other things, hint of even more amazing applications. Magnetoresistance random access memory (MRAM), which stores data by harnessing the spin state of electrons, offers fast speed at low power, and retains data when power is severed. IBM researchers recently claimed to have successfully stored data on a single molecule by exploiting spin, a breakthrough that should be beneficial when conventional memory methods lose steam in 15 years.
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My Android Twin
New Scientist (10/14/06) Vol. 192, No. 2573, P. 42; Schaub, Ben

Japan, South Korea, and the United States are racing to produce life-like robots, driven by recent advances in actuators, materials, and control algorithms. ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro has built a remote-control android that replicates his appearance, and to the best of its ability, his mannerisms as part of an effort to cross what roboticist Masahiro Mori called the "uncanny valley," the point at which automatons become so freakishly human-like as to repel us. "Our brain is designed for recognizing people, not for recognizing computers or objects," Ishiguro argues. "Therefore I think androids would be an ideal information medium." The importance of social mannerisms can be measured by studying people's interaction with androids, and Ishiguro decided that a more effective approach to this challenge would be to build a robot that could be more fully controlled by a person, to make up for the robot's limited artificial intelligence. There is hope that the androids Ishiguro and others are working on will be more readily accepted than current machines as companions and assistants. This is particularly important in Japan, which faces a burgeoning elderly population.
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Does Virtualization Drive the Future?
EDN (09/28/06) Vol. 51, No. 20, P. 124; Wilson, Ron

The simulation of reality by electronic systems--virtualization--adds intelligence, but it is theorized that it could also make such systems self-generating. To be virtualized, a system must be isolated from its environment by a boundary; modeled through the identification by designers of the inputs and outputs that cross the boundary, as well as the transforms that generate the outputs; and represented by an electronic system with a functionally equivalent block. Virtualization can come to encompass not just physical devices, but also storage, computing resources in a network, and applications. Systems-on-chips with diverse computing sites may become viable in real applications via virtualization. Virtualization could enhance electronic gaming by offering advantages over conventional animation, which would be a tremendous boon to game architects. Microsoft's Robotics Studio is developing a virtualized environment for the programming and ultimate design of robots, hoping to offer industrial developers a cheap development and testing platform for programs, and secondary schools an affordable virtual robot to attract U.S. engineering and mathematics students. Virtualization could perhaps ultimately lead to electronic systems capable of environmental sensing, modeling, and prediction.
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The Information Factories
Wired (10/06) Vol. 14, No. 10, P. 178; Gilder, George

The information cloud concept hinges on the creation of massive centers for data storage distributed throughout the world, using the Internet as a binding medium. Google is erecting numerous data centers comprising an estimated 200 petabytes of hard disk storage and 4 petabytes of RAM, expanding the company's repertoire of Web services beyond its core business of Web search. Dominating the petascale epoch requires profligate use of memory and bandwidth, which are abundant, while conserving resources in short supply, such as users' patience; this is a practice that Google has mastered. In doing so, writes Randall Sullivan, "Google appears to have attain one of the holy grails of computer science: a scalable massively parallel architecture that can readily accommodate diverse software." The catch is that the energy expenditures are enormous. Boosting the efficiency of computers is, at present, the best solution for cooling overheated data centers, but such upgrades may not be physically possible unless chip design is radically revised. An alternate solution to this problem is to minimize power consumption through a computer redesign, which Sun Microsystems' Andy Bechtolsheim is pursuing. Bechtolsheim says, "The past few years have been disappointing for people who want to accelerate progress in technology. But now the world is moving again." As technology evolves, centralized computing's advantages will give way to a new era. Electronics and optics will converge to compress parallel computing solutions, and these technologies' incorporation into a wider assortment of devices will turn the petascale computer into a teleputer. Bell Labs engineer Andy Kessler says, "It's sure to happen. It always has. Because all the creativity, customer whims, long tails, and money are at the network's edge...That's where you can find elastically ascending revenues and relentlessly declining costs."
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