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ACM TechNews
January 12, 2007

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Welcome to the January 12, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Daylight Sought for Data Mining
Washington Post (01/11/07) P. D3; Nakashima, Ellen; Klein, Alec

A Senate bill introduced on Jan. 10 would require that government agencies inform Congress about government data-mining efforts intended to "discover predictive or anomalous patterns indicating criminal or terrorist activity." Similar bills in recent years were not successful in the Republican-controlled Congress, but new Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who co-sponsored the bill introduced by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), has said that this Congress will assume an aggressive stance in the oversight of surveillance and data-mining programs. Leahy said, "The American people have neither the assurance that these massive data banks will make us safer, nor the confidence that their privacy rights will be protected." According to Leahy, over 52 federal agencies utilize data-mining, totaling 199 programs in all, although this number does not include NSA programs, since the agency will not reveal such information. Claiming that 300,000 names appear on the government's terrorist watchlist, including infants and members of Congress, Leahy said, "We also need to understand that a mistake in a government database could cost a person his or her job, sacrifice their liberty, and wreak havoc on their life and reputation." Predictive data-mining is becoming more popular, although Cato Institute director of information policy studies Jim Harper says the technique is not effective in finding terrorists, since there are not enough established "terrorist patterns" to build a model around. Privacy advocacy groups agree that data-mining has shown little evidence of its effectiveness, but the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy claims that while the system is not perfect, properly conducted oversight can make the necessary adjustments.
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The Ever More Diversified Face of IT
eWeek (01/11/07) Rothberg, Deborah

While the field of IT becomes more diverse, there is significant inequity between different minority groups. An Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) study of the American IT workforce in 2002 shows that Asian-Americans make up 11.8 percent, African-Americans 8.2 percent, Hispanic-Americans 6.3 percent, and Native Americans 0.6 percent. The trend toward IT diversity began in the 1990s when a shortage of skilled American IT workers forced companies to look overseas, and many of those who immigrated at the time still live and work in the U.S. Universities, such as DeVry University in Southern California, are witnessing an ever-growing percentage of minority students. Electronic Recruiting Exchange editor-in-chief Todd Raphael says opportunities for a more diverse IT workforce are growing in part because demand for IT workers is strong, particularly in Silicon Valley and the California desert and the Washington, D.C. area. He says, "There are high percentages of minorities working in government IT, on both the local and federal levels, and in the nonprofit sector, including universities." Raphael says new niches opening up, such as staffing and recruiting, allow minorities to "make a name for themselves." Still, many in the field, including Raphael, say that women, blacks, and Hispanics are still considerably lacking in IT. Many blame the U.S. education system, arguing that math and science do not receive a high enough priority, but perhaps employers can provide a better solution, through internships and other ways of getting the attention of minority students. Despite women graduating with math and science degrees at a faster pace than ever, the continued lack of women in IT confuses many. Susan Merritt, Dean of Pace University's Ivan G. Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, says, "There is a lot of concern over lack of minorities in IT. The numbers--especially women--are not representative of the population at large. Though preliminary looks at this year's enrollments of women show some improvement, I think the problem of a lack of diversity continues."
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House Seat Hangs by a Byte
Wired News (01/11/07) Zetter, Kim

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) has already taken his seat in Congress, but the election that put him there is still being contested due to a possible e-voting software failure. Buchanan won by less than 400 votes, but 18,000 ballots cast in the Sarasota County district contained no vote for his particular race, a fact that has prompted his opponent Christine Jennings to challenge the results. Her appeal has led to a debate over whether or not e-voting machine source code can be legally examined. "The source code is available, yet there is no easy and ready way to get access to it or for someone to go in and look at the machine and challenge them," says Matt Zimmerman, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has allied with Jennings in her appeal of the election through a separate lawsuit representing voters. Jennings campaign spokesman David Kochman says, "Any review of the voting system without looking at [the source code] isn't really getting to the full truth about what happened in the election." A federal judge denied Jennings' request to view the code, based upon claims by the manufacturer Election Systems & Software (ES&S) that the code was a trade secret; the case is currently being heard by an appeals court. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to the appeals court implying that unless Florida makes all the evidence available, the House will get involved. Kochman claims that evidence exists suggesting that the specific times machines were setup correlates with whether or not they encountered problems, meaning a look at the inner workings of the system would uncover whether the problem was due to calibration problems, improper software loading, or something else. Experts say Jennings could have won the election by 3,000 votes based on analysis of the 18,000 votes not counted.
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Survey: Offshoring Does Not Cost Developer Jobs
InfoWorld (01/11/07) Krill, Paul

Offshoring of software development is not taking jobs away from Americans, rather it is allowing software companies to make up for shortages in the U.S. IT workforce, concludes a Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) survey of 114 American software companies last year. SIIA executive director David Thomas said offshoring "was used almost entirely as a form of expansion, not as a replacement." About half of survey respondents said that a lack of both American engineers and H-1B visa availability forced them to contract work to offshore companies, while a third operated an offshore subsidiary or captive. Of the companies surveyed, 68 had offshore operations and 46 did not. Fifty-seven percent of respondents who had offshore operations said their amount of offshoring had increased in the past 18 months, and many planned for it to continue growing. Growth was the most commonly cited reason for offshoring, named by 84 percent of respondents, while increasing speed to market and productivity were the next common reasons. Two-thirds of respondents said the work is better on average than that of domestic staff and 25 percent calling the work excellent or outstanding. Fears of poor quality, loss of control, loss of intellectual property, or a negative impact on the morale of domestic staff were cited as reasons not to use offshoring.
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Computer Security: Adapt or Die
Computerworld (01/08/07) Anthes, Gary

Intel researchers are developing adaptive and resilient computing security technology that enables computers to communicate with each other concerning network activity in order to find a way to stay ahead of network attackers. Older security applications that rely on signatures are no longer a sufficient means of protection, as they cannot be updated as fast as new malicious content can be released. BT research engineer Robert Ghanea-Hercock says, "For cutting-edge day-to-day protection, you�ll have to have adaptive things that monitor what�s happening on the network in real time." "Anomaly detectors" at local nodes are being developed by Intel to monitor for evidence of worms, such as a sudden increase in activity. If such an indicator is noticed, a computer will "discuss" the probability that the network is under attack with other machines, and if enough machines on the network agree on the attack, defensive measures would be taken. Recent changes to malware has slowed it down, allowing it to slip past traditional intrusion detectors that monitor for anomalous activity. Florida Institute of Technology computer science professor Richard Ford says high-profile, massive attacks are being replaced by more secretive, "high value" exploits. He says, "That dramatically changes the threat profile." The Intel prototype, called Distributed Detection and Interference (DDI), is based on the idea that one computer noticing an increase in connections could mean a simple fluctuation, but 50 computers noticing even a slight increase in traffic most likely indicates an attack. As adaptive security makes its way into the commercial world, the biggest threat to the technology's success are false positives, which can cause inconvenience or even lead users to ignore actual threats.
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Vision Research Yields Improved Driving Experience
EE Times (01/10/07) Walko, John

University of California, San Diego computer vision researchers have developed algorithms for improving human activity recognition systems that uses multiple cameras operating at different wavelengths and at different perspectives. UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering professor of electrical and computer engineering Mohan Trivedi says the systems "are multi-perspective and multimodal ... The objective is to observe and understand human movements and activities in a robust manner, and the results have been very encouraging." One of the team's projects, supported by Volkswagen, involves a method for observing the actions of the driver of a car that could lead to innovative intelligent assistance capabilities. Experiments have focused on head, arm, torso, and leg movement. One of the biggest challenges facing this project is dealing with varying levels of light, but by using four cameras, infrared and color, at different perspectives, the researchers achieved robust, real time, and reliable results. The second project the team undertook aimed to develop new ways of reaching a correspondence between objects simultaneously viewed by a stereo head that contains one thermal infrared eye and one color eye. Current algorithms are ineffective with data that has multiple objects and multiple depths that are significant relative to their distance from the camera, but the new algorithm the team developed is an improvement, most importantly in close-range surveillance and pedestrian detection.
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Record-Breaking Speed for Flexible Silicon
Technology Review (01/11/07) Greene, Kate

University of Wisconsin researchers have constructed ultrathin silicon transistors capable of speeds over 50 times faster than past flexible-silicon devices, demonstrating that the levels of performance once thought only possible on rigid silicon chips can be achieved with flexible electronics. This technology could enable flexible high-end electronics that could be used for everything from communications to computers. The transistors created by the UW researchers are made from single-crystal silicon, in which electrons simply move faster than previously used organic polymers or amorphous, noncrystalline silicon. UW professor of electrical engineering and lead researcher on the project Jack Ma says the work is basically a continuation of previous efforts by University of Illinois researchers, who showed that nanometer-thin films of single-crystal silicon transistors could be built and moved to flexible substrates. Ma realized that high electron speed alone does not mean high device speed; resistivity of the contact connection is crucial. HRL Laboratories researcher Ed Croke says the researchers developed a "clever way of mounting the circuit on a flexible substrate without having to deal with high temperatures ... [by doing] all their processing before they undercut the silicon" and attached it to the plastic substrate. Ma's team reported transistor speeds as high as 7.8 Ghz, and while these transistors would need to be a lot faster for use in computers, they are fast enough for use antennas that send and receive signals ranging from radar to Wi-Fi.
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How to Leak a Secret and Not Get Caught
New Scientist (01/12/07) Marks, Paul

Open-source software engineers and political activists are believed to be behind a new online service that will allow anonymous users to post documents about the unethical actions of companies and governments without being traced. WikiLeaks will use the anonymizing protocol Tor (The Onion Router) to allow a network of servers to use cryptography to cover the tracks of data packets. The software the unidentified participants are testing is similar to the open-source software that powers Wikipedia. "Imagine a large room jammed full of people in which many of them are passing around envelopes," cryptographer Bruce Schneier says of Tor. "How would you know where any of them started?" The group will leave it up to site users to scrutinize and comment on any posted information to determine its validity. There are some doubts about the protection Tor offers, considering it has been breached by cryptographers in the past. Tor has been improved, but there is the risk that other breaches will occur. WikiLeaks could be up and running for the public by February.
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Virtual Braille Opens Employment Doors for Visually Impaired
ITworldcanada.com (01/09/07) Arellano, Nestor A.

McGill University researchers are developing an inexpensive tactile translation system called Virtual Braille (VB) designed to enable sight-impaired users to read what is on a computer screen. McGill Centre for Intelligent Machines director Vincent Hayward says the model currently being developed, Stimulator of Tactile Receptor by Skin Stretch squared (STReSS2), is "a smaller and simpler device with fewer moving parts" than others on the market. The prototype's interface pad contains 64 miniature ceramic slabs called "benders" that move laterally as the device detects words on the computer screen, translating the text into Braille. As the benders contact a user's finger tips, they create Braille through temporary "lateral skin deformations." Users keep their finger tip on the pad, which they move mouse-like across a surface, unlike other computer Braille readers that require users to move their finger across a pad to feel the dots. The team is looking into implementing the technology into a mouse, which would allow users to scan the entire screen, rather than limiting them to a single line at a time, although the researchers must figure out how to prevent the user from "getting lost" on the page. Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Library in Toronto manager Debbie Gillespie says that with this mouse concept, "You could have an entire screen of information literally at your fingertips." CNIB national director of consumer goods and assistive technologies Jeff Fitzgibbon explains that today's tactile translation devices run from $5,000 to above $10,000, discouraging companies from hiring the blind. He says, "Anything that can be done to make information more readily available will have a definite positive effect on the society, labor and the economy."
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Tiny New Cable May Spur Big Advances
Reuters (01/09/07)

The latest issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters features research on the development of a tiny coaxial cable that is able to transmit a broad spectrum of visible light. At about 300 nanometers wide, the cable, which is commonly used to deliver television, telephone, and Internet service, is several hundred times thinner than a human hair. And with a wavelength of 380 to 750 nanometers, visible light moving at about 90 percent of the speed of light has to be squeezed through the cable. An insulator surrounds the cable's inner carbon "wire," which serves as an antenna for light, and its outer wire is made of aluminum. The scientists behind the advance say the miniscule cable could have huge implications for medical applications, solar energy, and optical computing. "You can envision making chips that can move light around--basically convey information at the speed of light rather than using electronics," says Michael Naughton, a research participant who is the chairman of the physics department at Boston College. "So it's optics for the manipulation of information rather than electronics."
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Brain Waves Guide Walking Robot
Discovery Channel (01/10/07) Staedter, Tracy

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle are developing a way for people to control a robot using only their thoughts. Associate professor of computer science and engineering Rajesh Rao says, "We're using a well-known, well-characterized response that occurs in the brain to control a physical device in the world." This reliable response is known as a P300, which occurs when a person sees something they have been looking for, like a missing set of keys. The system works by flashing images in front of a user, who wears an electrode cap that picks up brain waves, and when the image of the object the user is focusing on shows up, the P300 signal is recognized and the robot is commanded to go to this object or pick it up. In order for interaction between the user and the robot to occur, 10 minutes of calibration exercise was needed for the computer to recognize a user's unique P300. The computer then takes about five to 10 seconds to confirm the specific image as the one the user is thinking of. The robot can only respond to a small number of thought instructions, but does so with 94 percent accuracy. However, Columbia University associate professor of biomedical engineering Paul Sajda believes that while P300 response recognition is a valuable area of research, as it could allow a better understanding of other brain signals, it is not the best way to command robots. He says, "The signals related to eye movements are 1,000 times stronger than scalp ECG, you're better off using an eye tracker, which could be mounted on a pair of glasses."
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March of the Consumer Robots
BBC News (01/11/07) Waters, Darren

Honda's Asimo robot is the poster-child for prototype robots that could one day be found in households worldwide. The latest version of Asimo can walk forward and backward, up and down stairs, and even run. Asimo project leader Stephen Keeney says Honda is committed to robot innovation plans to eventually sell Asimo models for home or hospital use. Honda is also considering developing a model that can assist in fighting fires. The product of 20 years of research, the greatest technological accomplishment is the robot's mastery of walking; as Keeney says, "Until we started studying it we didn't know really how people walked." Other robots that have already become popular items are unable to walk, but are designed for use around the home or by the military; over 700 tactile robots are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers avoid danger, and iRobot, the same company that makes these military robots, has had much success with its Roomba floor-cleaning robot. A Korean company has released a networked robot, known as iRobi, which is marketed as a security guard, entertainment device, and a friend to children. Its built in Wi-Fi capabilities can deliver news, weather, recipes, and even let its owner call from a remote location to check on their home. For Asimo to reach the point where it could be sold to households, it must learn to react to a changing environment, and to be "approachable," says Keeney. The robot, standing 130 cm tall, is meant to be tall enough to do thing such as open doors or reach cabinets, but not so tall as to intimidate children. Kenney believes that "Any robotic technology which makes people more accepting of having robots in their home is great," but first "We need Asimo to be smart enough to understand what we want it to do and [then] go and do it."
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Use of Virtual Reality Spreading in Business World
Associated Press (01/11/07) Hannah, James

As the price of computing equipment drops, many companies are using immersive virtual reality technology to accomplish tasks that previously would have required a great deal of resources, time, and money. VR centers, such as the Vis Lab located at Ohio's Wright State University Joshi Lab, are allowing companies to outsource VR work to test and improve product design, conduct virtual oil drilling, and conduct many other programs for the relatively reasonable price of $1,000 a day. High-performance computers project images on four walls, the ceiling, and the floor in alternating left- and right-eye images, which are combined to create depth by the polarizing glasses worn by viewers. Iowa State Virtual Reality Applications Center director James Oliver says immersive visualization is "reaching a level of maturity." Farm equipment producer Deere & Co. uses VR to test-drive products that have not been built. Deere's Ken Golden says, "These experiences help identify design problems with products or work environments that traditionally might not have been noticed until prototypes were built. Our vision in VR is to have only one physical build of our products before we move into production." Mechanical simulation is a $1.5 billion a year industry and is growing at a rate of 10 to 12 percent a year, according to Gartner. The technology has come quite a distance since it was first gained attention in the 1980s. Gartner says that what used to require a million-dollar supercomputer can now be done on less than $100,00 worth of desktop machines.
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IU Computing Group Promotes Diversity in IT at State Educators' Conference
Indiana University (01/10/07) Stuteville, Joe

The Indiana Computer Educators conference is scheduled for Jan. 26, 2007, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. More than 2,000 educators, technology experts, and exhibitors are expected to attend the gathering that is designed to bring attention to new trends and technology that may be beneficial in the classroom. One of the highlights of the conference will be a workshop presented by Women in Computing at Indiana University on the group's Just Be K-12 program, which offers an interactive road show at middle- and high schools across the state. Students participate in a poll of their views of computing and IT careers, using remote control clickers. "They usually conjure up images of a male, socially-challenged nerd working in isolation at a computer," says Suzanne Menzel, senior lecturer in computer science. "We show them pictures of real computer people at work, and that they can just be themselves and still be computing professionals." WIC@IU will also use the workshop to talk about how computing disciplines are changing, what teachers and students should know about IT careers and research, and the need for diversity in IT.
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Getting Serious About Transactional Memory
HPC Wire (01/12/07) Vol. 16, No. 12, Feldman, Michael

Higher levels of application concurrency are being encouraged by the parallelization of computers and the proliferation of CPUs, and multi-core processors are a major driver of this trend. Even more parallel processing will be needed in order to accommodate multi-core teraflop processors such as Intel's 80-core Polaris prototype and the application domains necessary to use them as they are rolled out over the next decade. Transactional memory (TM) is being considered by Intel researchers as a core technology for writing terascale killer apps. Application robustness and scalability are particularly critical for the kind of large-scale concurrency typical of terascale applications, and TM seems to address this challenge. TM shares with global locks a concurrency control model that facilitates access to data shared by multiple threads, but differs in being an optimistic model that assumes in the majority of instances just one thread will be vying for a given data item. Fine-grained locking is an implicit feature of TM, effecting the automatic provision of associated performance benefits. A transaction serves as a high-level construct performing reads and writes to data as an identical function, and Intel believes TM should be digested in language construct and initially deployed in software. The definition of TM's language semantics should enable the transparency of the software/hardware implementation to the application developer. TM also permits concurrent threads of the same data, which is beyond the capabilities of traditional locks.
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Brain Power Focused on Future-Tech Quest
MSNBC (01/10/07) Boyle, Alan

The Grand Challenges for Engineering program funded by a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant and overseen by the National Academy of Engineering is challenging America's best and brightest engineers as well as the online community to weigh in on the biggest technological challenges facing the world in the next century. The project aims to reduce the ideas to a list of 20 challenges that engineers will be tasked with solving. "NSF asked us to do this," says William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering. "I think they had two things in mind: One is to help them to better focus research funding and people on the problems that are really important. The other is a simple desire to excite people, to make them aware of the possibilities." Unlike past challenges sponsored by DARPA and the private sector, this challenge aims to spread ideas and not cash prizes. Already, suggestions have poured into academy's Web site from the likes of co-inventor of the laser Charles Townes, who highlighted the importance of energy efficiency for the future of man and the world in general. Several professors have chimed in with global climate change. In Wulf's mind, the program is needed to spur engineering education in the United States. "We have a declining fraction of our young people going into engineering and the hard sciences," he says. "There's at least some evidence that that's [due to] a stereotype of what engineering is about--that it doesn't help people very much. But boy, look at that list of 20 engineering achievements. There's probably nothing that has improved people's lives more than engineering. I think the same is going to be true of the next 100 years."
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Web Inventor Receives 'Engineering's Nobel Prize'
Electronics and Computer Science (01/09/07) Lewis, Joyce

Tim Berners-Lee will receive the 2007 Charles Stark Draper Prize, the U.S. engineering profession's highest honor. The National Academies' National Academy of Engineering is honoring Berners-Lee with the prestigious engineering award "for developing the World Wide Web." Berners-Lee is credited with contributing innovations such as the uniform resource identifier (URI), HyperText Markup Language (HTML), one-way and universal hyperlinks, HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and for having the foresight to use public domain software that is scalable and to have an open architecture for the Web. The prize includes a $500,000 award. He will be honored at a gala dinner in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20, 2007. Berners-Lee unveiled the Web on the Internet two years after proposing the concept in 1989 while at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He continued to refine the Web's design despite widespread skepticism until 1993. He is currently a computer science professor at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, a senior researcher and holder of the 3Com Founders Chair at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the founder and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
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Of Cyber Wars and Turf Wars
National Journal (01/06/07) Vol. 39, No. 1, P. 38; Swindell, Bill

As the 110th Congress begins its first session, federal data-security standards are once again in danger of falling victim to infighting. Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has requested the formation of a multi-committee task force to craft a single data-security standards bill, in hopes of avoiding the jurisdictional struggle between the Financial Services Committee (FSC) and the Energy and Commerce Committee (ECC) that befell the 109th Congress's attempt to lay down data-security standards. "I want us to start cooperating together, because I do think it is important to get a data-privacy bill, and I think it's one we can do on a bipartisan basis if we deal with the jurisdictional issue," said Frank. However, ECC Chairman Rep. John Dingell (D.-Mich) has already stated his plans to take back jurisdiction over insurance, securities, and accounting issues that the House transferred to the FSC in 2001. U.S. Public Interest Research Group consumer program director Edmund Mierzwinski believes that states, which have the ability to improve on the laws of other states, are better suited to set such data-security standards. He feels that business lobbyists are setting their sights on the federal level in hopes of implementing the lowest possible standard for the security of personal financial data. Many congressmen think that the multi-committee group that Frank envisions, the FSC, ECC, and Ways and Means committee, would work well together, with Dingell as the only question mark, but given the wide-ranging concerns of those involved, the legislation they draft may include a variety of privacy and data-security measures. Many are optimistic that the time is right for progress to be made on the privacy front, although there is some disagreement over whether or not privacy and data security are a single issue or if they should be addressed separately. Frank is also considering offering incentives to companies that encrypt their information so a breach would not be disastrous.
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Quantum Games: States of Play
Nature (01/10/07) Patel, Navroz

Spanning the chasm between theory and practice in game theory and quantum information processing is partly the goal of an HP Labs research team working on quantum protocols that could allow game-like situations such as auctions and other transactions to reach an optimal outcome. Scenarios being analyzed include the public-goods problem, which stems from the tension between the greater group benefits yielded from selfless choices by members, and the personal gain facilitated by selfish behavior; this is a variation on the prisoners' dilemma, a quantum version of which was studied by the HP researchers. That version projected that the players will cooperate in half of the games played, and that free-riding will be less likely with increasing numbers of players. Whereas defection is the optimal tactic for rational players in the classical version of the prisoners' dilemma, the quantum version uses quantum mechanics to establish an intrinsic connection between the players, which frequently yields a probabilistic outcome in which the players cannot be certain that they will receive the same payoff every time; in this scenario, the best strategy for rational players is one that combines moves based on random selection or speculation. The researchers conducted an experiment designed to prove the possibility of people playing primitive quantum public-goods games, setting up both classical and quantum games in which students were each given $100 and randomly paired up and presented with the choice of either keeping the money or contributing it to a collective fund. The quantum version of the game was configured to simulate quantum entanglement between quantum bits (qubits) assigned to each player in order to ascertain the decision of whether or not to contribute, and the result was that the students cooperated about half the time in the quantum games and only one-third of the time in the classical games. The researchers think it is feasible to develop quantum protocols that mimic more complicated entanglement within bigger groups of players using a small number of qubits within five to 10 years.
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