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ACM TechNews
March 30, 2007

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Welcome to the March 30, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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ACM Awards Recognize Computing Innovators Who Solved Real World Problems
AScribe Newswire (03/29/07)

Four awards will be presented at the ACM Awards Banquet, to be held on June 9, 2007, in San Diego, honoring outstanding achievement and innovation that affects our lives and work. The Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award will be presented to the University of California, Berkeley's Robert K. Brayton for his groundbreaking work in logic synthesis and electronic system simulation, which led to rapid circuit design technologies for the field of design automation. Brayton was involved in design automation for the consumer, defense, and health care industries. The Software System Award will be presented to Eiffel Software, an object-oriented programming language and environment, which enables developers to create reliable, efficient software that is easy to alter and reuse. Developed by Bertrand Meyer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Eiffel has established itself as a way to evaluate, design, implement, and maintain demanding software systems. The ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award will be given to Cambridge University's Karen Sparck Jones for her work in information retrieval and the ability of computers to work with "natural language," which contributed a great deal to modern search engines. Finally, the Grace Murray Hooper Award will go to the University of California, Berkeley's Daniel Klein for his creation of the first machine learning system able to infer a high-level grammar for English and other languages directly from text without human assistance. The system is a major step in allowing computers to understand natural languages, and automate tasks involving natural languages. For more information on the ACM award recipients, visit http://awards.acm.org/2006.
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Congress Finally Getting Its HPC Act Together
HPC Wire (03/30/07) Vol. 16, No. 13,

The idea that standard of living is dependent on national competitiveness has brought high performance computing to the floor of Congress, and a bill recently passed by the House could have a major impact on the field. The history of the High Performance Computing R&D Act (H.R. 1068) can be traced back to the 1991 High Performance Computing and Communications Act, which established the federal government's Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program. The 2007 bill would allow the Director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to create and supervise the roadmap for federal HPC systems. "This is something the community has been asking for for awhile," said the Computing Research Association's Peter Harsha. "The roadmapping is an attempt to provide some structure to the planning process--to allow the agencies to think more strategically over the long term." The President's IT advisory committee would also be charged with establishing goals and funding levels for the NITRD program, reviewing its progress, and reporting to Congress every two years. A roadmap is thought to be the best way to let federal resources take aim at HPC's major issue: Matching hardware and software to meet the needs of the largest scientific workloads, which would rely on investment in software technology, memory and process architectures, and system interconnects. "The real issue is how do we get the agencies to work better together so that we get technology transfer across the various R&D programs and develop a clear strategy for advancing the next-generation architectures, applications, software tools, and data systems, in concert," explains former PITAC chair Dan Reed, "as opposed to just being focused on big iron acquisition." The bill is expected to see success in the Senate.
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New GPLv3 Draft Takes New Approach to Patents, Lock-Down Technologies
Linux.com (03/28/07) Byfield, Bruce

Debate is likely to be provoked by the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) third draft of the revised third version of the GNU General Public License (GPLv3), which includes more explicit language concerning patents and a new approach to the issue of lock-down technologies. The GPL's relationship to patents was not fully covered by the second draft of GPLv3, and consequently section 11 of the license has been retooled, replacing a pledge from distributors not to assert patents with a more explicit definition of the transaction as "a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free patent license under the contributor's essential patent claims in its contribution, to make, use, sell, offer for sale, import, and otherwise run, modify and propagate the contribution." The third draft also defines a patent license as "a patent license, a covenant not to bring suit for patent infringement, or any other express agreement or commitment, however denominated, not to enforce a patent." Selective patent protection with a third party as part of a business deal is banned by the new language in order to prevent a recurrence of agreements such as the one between Novell and Microsoft. The second draft of GPLv3's declaration that "no permission is given for modes of conveying that deny users that run covered works the full exercise of the legal rights granted by this License" invited howls of protest from Linus Torvalds and other leading kernel developers, and brought into sharp relief the open source community's and the free software community's differing views on code freedom versus user freedom. The third draft does not designate all lock-down technologies incompatible, but instead categorizes the "corresponding source" for object code as all source code necessary for the creation, installation, and execution of the object code. This new language addresses the FSF's concern that lock-down technologies could hamper free software performance and depends on requirements that are already widely approved.
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Intel Plans Faster Chips That Also Save Power
New York Times (03/29/07) P. C4; Markoff, John

Intel is developing a new breed of chips that are capable of significantly enhanced performance without consuming more power. These chips will have 45-nanometer-long wires and up to 820 million transistors, allowing the addition of parallel computing, energy management, and graphics. The Penryn chip will most likely be released this year, and the Nehalam chip next year. AMD plans to complete work on Barcelona, 65-nanometer technology with four cores, during the second half of 2007, and has said that Intel will not be able to catch up with its existing designs until the release of the Nehalam chip. Intel's Pat Gelsinger says the chipmaker is taking a "tick-tock" approach, meaning it will introduce incremental changes with the Penryn chip and then more sweeping improvements with the Nehalam chip. Nehalam will have as many as eight processing cores, built-in graphics and memory control processing, as well as networking. "It will unlock the full capacity" of 45-nanometer technology, says Gelsinger. Intel will have the ability to create ultralow power chips, but first aims to increase speed without surpassing the power consumption of current chips.
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DAC Program Features Automotive Electronics
EE Times (03/28/07) Goering, Richard

The Design Automation Conference has published the technical program for the 44th DAC, which will be held June 4-8, 2007, in San Diego and is expected to host 11,000 attendees including academics, designers, and executives. The program includes 161 papers, eight special sessions, seven full-day tutorials, eight panels, 18 pavilion panels, and seven hands-on tutorials. Wednesday, June 6, will focus on automotive electronics. General Motors VP of R&D and Strategic Planning Lawrence Burns will give Monday's keynote address, titled "Designing a New Automotive DNA," which will discuss automobiles changing from internal combustion engines to fuel-cells, batteries, and other technologies. Tuesday's keynote will be given by Samsung Semiconductor System LSI Division President Oh-hyun Kwon, who will talk about the challenges facing the semiconductor industry as prices fall and costs rise, and suggest approaches for meeting these challenges. Thursday's keynote will be given by University of California, Berkeley electrical engineering and computer science professor Jan M. Rabaey and will be titled "Design without Borders--A Tribute to the Legacy of A. Richard Newton." Rabaey will discuss how the EDA industry is being applied to nano- and bio-constructions used by scientists. A Wild and Crazy Ideas (WACI) session will be held, where out-of-the-box ideas will be showcased in hopes of sparking discussion. Many panels will be held throughout the conference, focusing on emerging and important areas of interest. The exhibit floor will feature pavilion panels on topics such as trends in EDA, managing mixed-signal designs, DFM, and system-level wireless design. The complete program can be found at http://www.dac.com.
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Far Infrared Can Be Used for Anti-Terror Devices, Faster Wireless
University of Utah News (03/28/07)

University of Utah research have shown how far-infrared light can be used to create much faster short-range wireless communications between computers and other devices. The researchers found that shining far-infrared radiation, also known as terahertz radiation, through thin steel foil or film with holes punched in a semi-regular pattern known as "quasicrystal" allows nearly all of the radiation to pass through. When this method of transmission has been used in the past, unwanted frequencies were also transmitted, but the new study displayed the ability to choose which wavelength of far-infrared and visible light passed through the holes, and that by tilting the film, the researchers could switch the transmission on and off. Such results show that high-frequency terahertz signals can be used to carry information in the digital code of ones and zeros, and that superfast switches could potentially be constructed to move data at terahertz speeds. Fiber-optic phone and data lines currently use some near-infrared and some visible light, but far-infrared radiation is not used at all. The rest of the spectrum is full of communication signals, and "industry is starving for more electromagnetic frequencies," says principal study author Z. Valy Vardeny. Many obstacles face the creation, manipulation, and detection of far-infrared radiation, since today's optical and electronic switches are unable to turn the signal on and off fast enough to create binary code fast enough. No terahertz switch has ever been built, but the researchers believe that their findings show that such switches are possible and could be used for superfast communication over a short distance. The study also showed that far-infrared radiation could be used to detect chemical or biological weapons.
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Land Rush for H-1B Visas Expected Monday
Computerworld (03/30/07) Thibodeau, Patrick

The government will begin accepting H-1B visa applications on Monday, April 2, and many immigration attorneys suspect the cap could be reached within one or two days. The high demand is the result of a need for workers, but is largely a "self-fulfilling prophecy," says immigration attorney Peter Roberts, "because of the fear that [the visas] are going to be used up. Everybody is loading up on the front end." Every year at the beginning of April the H-1B visas are given out, and the 65,000-visa cap was met on May 26 last year. If applications for less than the limit are received the first day, but the limit has been reached after the second day, a computer will randomly select enough to meet the limit from all of those submitted on that day. Slightly more than are needed to fill the limit are accepted, based on the assumption that some will be turned down. In addition to the H-1B limit of 65,000, 20,000 more visas will be available to foreign nationals who have received advanced degrees from U.S. universities, and this limit is not predicted to be reached as quickly. An immigration reform bill, currently in the House, would raise the H-1B cap to 180,000 and do away with the limit on the second type of visas.
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Survey Shows U.S. Slipping Globally in IT Use
IDG News Service (03/28/07) O'Connor, Fred

The World Economic Forum's "Networked Readiness Index" for 2006 shows that the United States has slipped to seventh place worldwide, from first place last year, in the use of IT to maximize development and enhance competitiveness. The study said the drop was due to "deterioration relative of the political and regulatory environment," but also noted that the country's education sector helped maintain a lead in innovation and that venture capital availability, a smart financial market, and the ease with which a business can be started contributed to a robust IT environment. Denmark was ranked first, for its use of electronic services, regulatory structure, and telecommunications sector. Other Nordic countries also performed well last year, including Sweden, which came in second, and Finland, which ranked fourth. The study attributed Nordic success to an emphasis on education, efficient governing, and an eagerness to use current technologies. While several Asia-Pacific countries were ranked in the teens, India was ranked 44th and China was ranked 59th. The poll took into account business, regulatory, and infrastructure environments for IT; the preparedness of business, government, and individuals to use technology; and the utilization of current technologies. The results come after Bill Gates and Intel Chairman Craig Barrett spoke in front of Congress, on separate occasions, to express the need for improved math and science education and increased funding for R&D. A bill has been introduced in the Senate that would double funding for a research organization that also helps encourage students to pursue math.
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Wright State Researchers Pioneer New Ground in Web Technology Affecting Health Care, Terrorism, Defense, Financial Services
Wright State University (03/28/07)

Wright State University's Kno.e.sis Center is working to make it easier for computers to understand data. "We live in a society where we are deluged with data, and a key goal in our work is to organize and analyze this data through computer applications and software development," explains the center's Amit Sheth. "We want to collect the dots and then connect the dots." Kno.e.sis focuses on establishing new techniques and technologies for the understanding and implementation of data and for the control and oversight of processes. Sheth dedicates a good deal of his efforts to the Semantic Web, the vision of expressing Web content in a way that computers can understand and analyze. The applications developed by Kno.e.sis could effect many different fields. Researchers at the center educate and train graduate students and develop technology that leads to software products. Better electronic records could improve health care by understanding the relationships and rules of different drug interactions, treatment, and diagnosis. Life sciences could benefit from enhanced automation of experiments and analysis of data. Financial services could more accurately identify patterns and trends using the Semantic Web. Kno.e.sis could allow security to improve thanks to the ability to coordinate data from many different sources. Finally, integrating sensor data from many sources with known databases could provide military troops and officials with improved situational awareness. Kno.e.sis receives funding from the NSF, NIH, and DoD.
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Amoebalike Robots for Search and Rescue
Technology Review (03/29/07) Graham-Rowe, Duncan

Virginia Tech roboticists are working on a robot that moves using its outer skin as a way to navigate areas that would prohibit robots with legs, wheels, or tracks. The robot's shape is known as "toroidal," an elongated cylinder, which has actuator rings that run the length of the robot's body and around through the middle of the cylinder. The robot would be able to flatten itself out to squeeze into tight spaces during search and rescue missions. When the rings are contracted at the rear of the robot, they expand near the front, generating movement. The design was inspired by the pseudopods that amoebas use to move, explains VT mechanical engineering professor and lead researcher Dennis Hong. After beginning with flexible toroidal membranes lined with propulsion rings made of electroactive polymer or pressurized hoses, Hong has decided to use a more rugged construction, which he describes as "a 3D tank tread." Although toroids have been tested as propulsion systems before, Hong's research is pioneering in its use of electroactive polymers to generate propagating waves of contractions. "These experimental designs open new and exciting perspectives in soft-bodied robotics." One challenge facing this design is how the power supply, computerized controllers, and sensors would be integrated, but Hong suggests placing these components in the center of the toroid. He also envisions using a wireless controller to activate the contractions of the rings using inductive loops for power.
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Q&A: New IAB Chair Mulls DNS Security, Unwanted Internet Traffic
Network World (03/28/07) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

New chairman of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) Olaf Kolkman explains in an interview that the narrow adoption of the DNSSEC DNS traffic authentication approach is not a sign of failure, but rather a sign of the slow deployment of the DNSSEC protocol. "For most application developers, DNSSEC is not on the radar because of the lack of infrastructure, while for the providers of infrastructure there are not sufficient users to justify their expense," he points out. Luckily, some top-level domains have stepped up to the plate to hasten DNSSEC implementation, although Kolkman notes that "more DNS infrastructure will need to be signed" while applications will have to start making use of the data. He says ascertaining the importance of the DNS' authority and integrity to a service is key to understanding the relevance of DNSSEC. Kolkman's investment in the IAB is borne out of his hope to maintain the consistency of the core principles for Internet usage for a time when his children use the Internet as young adults. Among the issues he expects the board will address over the next few years is unwanted Internet traffic. "In order to connect to those billion of devices mentioned above, we will need to have a network that will be able to deal with the dynamics of the interconnections, as well as the sheer number of possible interconnections," Kolkman comments. "Within the IETF there is, partly as of a result of an IAB sponsored workshop on the topic, a fair amount of energy to define an approach to deal with the strain put on the network."
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Shoulder-Worn Camera Acts as Third Eye
New Scientist (03/26/07) Simonite, Tim

UK researchers have created a shoulder-mounted camera that can follow a user's head movements, recognize hand movements, and create a virtual map of it surroundings. The goal of the research is to have the camera know what the wearer is doing at a certain time and provide assistance, reroute phone calls, or bring up relevant information on a screen. A second camera, placed where it can see the user, enables the shoulder-worn camera to know where its wearer is looking. The camera is worn around the collar and has three motors that let it move in a highly directional manner and even tilt. Inertia sensors keep the camera oriented as the wearer moves about. The user can point to direct the camera to an object or overlay virtual objects on a video screen. "If you are going to use wearable computers, you cannot use a computer and mouse," explains the camera's creator, Walterio Mayol Cuevas. Users could construct their own "virtual workspace" using the camera and a head-mounted display. Mayol Cuevas wants the camera to understand hand gestures, because the "hands are always there to see," and this approach is much easier than trying to have the camera understand an entire scene.
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Iowa State to Unveil the Most Realistic Virtual Reality Room in the World
Iowa State University News Service (03/26/07)

Iowa State University's Virtual Reality Applications Center has updated the graphics and projection technology of its virtual reality room for the first time since it opened C6 in June 2000. The 10-foot by 10-foot virtual reality cube now projects two times the resolution of any other virtual reality room in the world, and projects 16 times the pixels produced by the original C6. Installing the new equipment "is like putting on your glasses in the morning," says James Oliver, a professor of mechanical engineering who serves as the director of the center. The approximately $5 million investment in new equipment includes a Hewlett-Packard computer cluster featuring 96 graphics processing units, 24 Sony digital projectors, an eight-channel audio system, and ultrasonic motion tracking technology. The new equipment was recently installed in the country's first six-sided virtual reality room. The university will show off C6 during the Emerging Technologies Conference 07 on April 26, 2007. The public will be able to participate in tours that demonstrate C6's improvements in immersing users in images and sound.
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Google Seeks World of Instant Translations
Reuters (03/28/07) Tanner, Adam

Google is working with machine logic in hopes of creating a system that can instantly translate documents from, and into, hundreds of languages. Past efforts have had language experts program computers with grammatical rules and dictionaries, but Google's approach, using statistical machine translation, will feed documents already translated into two languages into computers so the computers can determine patterns for future translations. Those who have worked in machine translation see important improvements Google has made in the technology, but to the unfamiliar, the errors might suggest fundamental flaws, explains project leader Franz Och. For most translation jobs, a mostly-accurate translation would be sufficient. Hundreds of millions of words from parallel texts have already been run through the computers, and the system is improving with each document. By using statistical analysis, Och hopes to avoid faux pas, such as the instance where Vladimir Putin's translator addressed the current German Chancellor as "Fuehrer." The correct title, "Bundeskanzler," is far more common, so the computer would most likely make the right decision. Google has made statistical machine translation of Arabic, Chinese, and Russian to and from English available online, and third-party software allows this translator to handle other languages. "So far, the focus is let's make it really, really good," Och said. "As part of a general Google philosophy, once it's really useful and it has impact, then there will be found ways how to make money out of it."
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IT Workforce Development: Losing the Numbers Game
Wisconsin Technology Network (03/27/07) Vanden Plas, Joe

A decline in the number of people embarking on IT careers has lowered businesses' expectations that sufficient numbers of professionals can be found to fulfill their IT workforce needs. There are currently not enough IT students to take up the reins from retiring technologists, leaving companies in the lurch when it comes to acquiring creative problem solvers. "Computer science is where the application-development side, the embedded side of development, is," attests Manpower Professional recruiting manager Robin Pickering. "There are simply fewer students who are migrating to the IT field." The Information Technology Association of Wisconsin (ITAWi) projects a nationwide decrease in the number of college-educated workers across all fields over the next 13 years, while the impending retirement of IT workers is threatening to leave a gap in expertise that CEOs must fill by trying to implement post-retirement retention or mentor new talent. The fall-off in computer science enrollments is attributed to a number of factors, including the negative spin certain media segments placed on the dotcom implosion and the offshoring trend, and the abrasive effects of K-12 education on children's inherent creative imaginations. The emergence of new IT job opportunities is indicated by a 2005 University of California, Berkeley study estimating that though some 70,000 computer programmers have joined the ranks of the unemployed since 1999, over 115,000 higher-paid computer software engineers have found work in that same period. Of Wisconsin's 15 fastest-growing job occupations from 2004 to 2014, six of those will be technology-related. ITAWi is readying a public awareness campaign to clear up the media-proliferated misconceptions about IT offshoring and to make people more cognizant of emerging growth opportunities.
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OLPC Eyes Experimental Battery for $100 Laptop
Computerworld (03/29/07) Lai, Eric

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project sees cutting-edge Lithium Iron Phosphate technology (LiFePo4) as a way to improve the energy storage capacity of its $100 notebook computers, and negate a decline in maximum charge over time. The OLPC announced at the ShmooCon security conference in Washington, D.C., last weekend that it plans to use batteries with LiFePo4 in its third batch of beta computers, likely in May. The non-profit had planned to use inexpensive Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries in the laptops. LiFePo4 batteries are able to store more energy than NiMH batteries, and they are reported to be safer and less toxic than Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries, which are found in most notebook PCs that are on the market today. OLPC officials essentially hope the experimental batteries are able to offer the stability of NiMH batteries and a storage capacity that approaches the level of Li-Ion batteries.
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Engineers Tout 'Morphable' Computers
VNUNet (03/22/07) James, Clement

Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems says it has built the most adaptable processor for the U.S. Department of Defense in the Morphable Networked Micro-Architecture (Monarch) system, which will allow computers to morph into different forms. A single system-on-a-chip, Monarch does not need as many processors and operates in an array of chips for teraflop throughput. "The Monarch micro-architecture is unique in its ability to reconfigure itself to optimize processing on the fly," says Nick Uros, vice president for the Advanced Concepts and Technology group at Raytheon. "Monarch provides exceptional compute capacity and highly flexible data bandwidth capability with beyond state-of-the-art power efficiency, and is fully programmable." Raytheon says Monarch's performance was 10 times better than Intel's quad-core Xeon chip in lab testing. With Monarch, systems have six microprocessors and an interconnected reconfigurable computing array that offers 64 gigaflops with more than 60 Gbps of memory bandwidth and more than 43 Gbps of off-chip data bandwidth.
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The Mind-Bending New World of Work
BusinessWeek (04/02/07)No. 4928, P. 46; McConnon, Aili

Motion capture has long been a staple of Hollywood film studios and video game makers as a tool for adding realism to computer-animated characters, but the technology has started to migrate to the business world in industries that range from aerospace to advertising. Motion capture has also started to penetrate the consumer market through products such as Nintendo's Wii game system, which allows users to control game avatars with a special wand studded with motion sensors; Intel CTO Justin Rattner predicts that gesture recognition could make remote controls obsolete within five years. Another area being transformed by motion capture is marketing, as exemplified by an effort to install large screens in a Las Vegas airport that will display commercials that are responsive to pedestrians' movements, or that can "insert" pedestrians into the ad. New York's Hospital for Special Surgery and other medical centers use a system that tracks patients' movements and compares them to a model of healthy persons' movements, which could ease the assessment and treatment of diseases such as Parkinson's and cerebral palsy. Meanwhile, manufacturers of all stripes are using motion tracking to facilitate remote collaboration between engineers, designers, and customers in shared virtual environments. Lockheed's Ship Air Integration Lab has a collaborative space equipped with cameras that capture the motion of participants wearing special body suits and caps with reflective sensors; they also wear head-mounted displays to view digital renderings of themselves and the simulated environment, while advisers watch their progress virtually on a nearby screen. The initiative seeks to reduce the cost of design and manufacturing.
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Future Fab
IEEE Spectrum (03/07) Vol. 44, No. 3, P. 38; Mouli, Chandra; Carriker, Wayne

Semiconductor fabrication plants are mostly automated thanks to software such as Intel's Automated Manufacturing Technology (AMT), which oversees and manages the entire chip manufacturing process, write Chandra Mouli and Wayne Carriker of Intel's Logic Technology Development group. Software also refines recipes for next-generation processors and fabs, which will concentrate on churning out even smaller chips. The AMT suite consists of four elements: The Manufacturing Execution System, the Process Control Automation Framework, the Engineering Analysis Framework, and the Material Handling and Tool Control; these components manage various applications that control a different part of the chip manufacturing process. Real-time XML communication between all machines and software in a fab is facilitated by Intel's "grid" software, which functions as an electronic bulletin board where machines and wafers post their individual locations and status. "After a fab successfully implements the new chip-making processes, engineers start investigating ways to improve transistor performance and the yield of working chips from each wafer," note Mouli and Carriker. "As soon as they can demonstrate an improvement, it is replicated at all other sites that make the same chips." The authors contend that it will become increasingly important to modify and replicate manufacturing processes and recipes as smaller next-generation chips are rolled out, and this will require an evolution in the software as well. The software will control the manufacture of chips that will likewise run the software more efficiently, Mouli and Carriker conclude.
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