Welcome to the June 30, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
In observance of the Fourth of July holiday, ACM TechNews will not be published on Friday, July 2, and Monday, July 5. Publication will resume Wednesday, July 7.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
The Idea Incubator Goes to Campus
New York Times (06/28/10)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of a handful of universities that work closely with investors to make sure promising ideas are nurtured into successful startups. Universities involve themselves at an early stage in the process, harvesting the best ideas and then matching them with businesses and investors interested in developing them further. This process takes place in a "proof-of-concept center," the first of which was the University of California, San Diego's William J. von Liebig Center. It can cost investors $250,000 to fund a new idea and develop it further, and academics call the chasm that usually separates a good idea from people who will invest in it the "valley of death." The Obama administration wants to support university commercialization efforts by allocating $12 million among several institutions next year in what could become a continuing effort to support and study proof-of-concept centers. Congress has yet to act on the proposal, but a House subcommittee held hearings this month to discuss improving "innovation ecosystems" around universities to encourage the commercialization of taxpayer-financed research.
Computing Careers: The Future Is Bright
InfoQ (06/29/10) West, Dave
A new report from Calvin College professor Joel Adams suggests a bright future for people pursuing computing careers. The report, "The Market for Computing Careers," notes that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that for the foreseeable future, nearly three out of four new science or engineering jobs in the United States will be in computing. Moreover, the number of new jobs created each year is double the number of computing graduates, creating a significant shortage that also raises salaries. Adams notes that computing is the only science, technology, engineering, and math discipline in which demand for graduates exceeds supply. BLS predicts that the majority of new computing jobs will be in software engineering, followed by computer networking and systems analysis. However, despite the demand for graduates, the number of students choosing a computer science degree has dropped from about 60,000 in 1998 to about 30,000 in 2007, according to the Computing Research Association's Taulbee Survey.
Future Computing in the Ether
ICT Results (06/29/10)
The European Union-funded AETHER project has developed a self-adaptive architecture that could enable future ubiquitous networks to automatically handle changing circumstances and technologies. "The problem of programming and managing applications running on such complex, highly heterogeneous and potentially volatile computing resources is a key issue," says AETHER coordinator Christian Gamrat. The AETHER framework, based on self-adaptive computing, is designed to be able to react by itself to changes in the environment, such as the optimal execution of a variety of applications on different platforms using a wide spectrum of dispersed computing resources. "The AETHER project ranges from the topmost layer of programming and setting the goals and objectives of the application, down to the design of computing resources with adequate properties," Gamrat says. AETHER uses a descriptive language known as S-NET, which enables several levels of static and dynamic adaptivity. The system uses two protocols to support the self-adaptive virtual processor and the system environment place in delegating tasks to different resources in the network. For the S-NET model of self-adaptive computing to work it must be integrated into the system architecture at the processor level.
Nanoscale Random Number Circuit to Secure Future Chips
Technology Review (06/29/10) Simonite, Tom
Intel engineers have created computer processors with circuits capable of random behavior, a development that could lead to secure cryptography keys. Building a random number generator into the central processing unit (CPU) should accelerate any process that requires the generation of an encrypted key, says Intel's Ram Krishnamurthy. "Today random numbers are either generated in software, or in the chip set outside the microprocessor," he says, neither of which produces actually random numbers. "If the random numbers are not truly random, for example, if they are biased in some way, then an adversary has a better chance of guessing/determining the value," says National Institute of Standards and Technology's Elaine Barker. Intel's circuit has an all-digital design, making it possible to incorporate it into the microprocessor die. The design features a cross-coupled inverter--a combination of two basic circuit components that is essentially a memory component capable of storing a single 1 or 0. However, the memory component is designed to be unreliable. It can be tipped between its two possible outputs by the influence of thermal noise from the surrounding silicon, a process that produces random output.
Justices Take Broad View of Business Method Patents
New York Times (06/28/10) Schwartz, John; Lohr, Steve
In a long-awaited decision, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a broad perspective on the patenting of business methods even though it unanimously denied the patenting of the process at issue. The core question at issue in the case was whether a patent should be approved on processes that did not meet the machine-or-transformation test in which the process was not linked to a specific machine or did not change a specific article into a different state or thing. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was in error in declaring two years ago that the machine-or-transformation test was the only suitable test for patenting processes. However, he also wrote that "a business method is simply one kind of 'method' that is, at least in some circumstances, eligible for patenting." In a concurring opinion, four other justices argued that a broader shift in patent law was needed. The court's decision follows a moderate path and leaves much unresolved, says intellectual property lawyer James R. Myers. "The Supreme Court's division generates a significant set of disputes about where the boundaries ought to be drawn, and this case does not--and explicitly refuses--to draw the boundary," says Myers.
Maryland Scientists Develop World's Fastest Program to Find Patterns in Social Networks
UM Newsdesk (06/28/10) Tune, Lee
University of Maryland researchers have developed the Cloud Oriented Subgraph Identification (COSI) program, an algorithm that supports subgraph pattern matching in very large social networks containing billions of links. COSI makes it possible to split a social network into a set of nearly independent, relatively small subnetworks, each of which is stored on a computer in a cloud computing cluster to limit the probability that a query pattern will need to access two nodes. The researchers say that during testing COSI was able to efficiently answer queries to social network databases containing more than a billion edges. "An innovative mix of cloud computing and smart thinking, COSI shows how exact social network pattern matching on complex query patterns can be efficiently implemented," says Maryland professor V.S. Subrahmanian.
A Marriage of Origami and Robotics
Harvard University Gazette (06/28/10) Rutter, Michael Patrick
Researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed self-folding "smart" sheets based on origami techniques, a development they say could ultimately lead to programmable matter that can perform multiple tasks. The researchers demonstrated how a single thin sheet composed of interconnected triangular sections could autonomously transform itself into a boat or plane shape. Using a concept called programmable matter by folding, the researchers envision creating smart cups that could adjust based upon the amount of liquid needed, or a Swiss army knife-type device that could form into various tools. The sheet, a thin composite of rigid tiles and elastomer joints with elastic polymers, is studded with motorized switches and flexible electronics. "Smart sheets are origami robots that will make any shape on demand for their user," says MIT professor Daniela Rus. "A big achievement was discovering the theoretical foundations and universality of folding and fold planning, which provide the brain and the decision-making system for the smart sheet."
STEMing the Tide
Newsweek (06/29/10) Ellison, Jesse
Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson recently introduced legislation designed to boost female representation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Although attempts to pass an independent bill failed, Johnson succeeded in appending a women-specific measure to the America COMPETES Act of 2007, which is up for reauthorization. Many recent studies have shown that culture is a problem for women in STEM fields. An American Association of University Women (AAUW) study found that female postdoctoral applicants must produce 20 more papers to be judged as productive as their male counterparts. A Bayer Corp. study found that more than 40 percent of female and minority chemists and chemical engineers had been steered away from pursuing STEM careers at some point during their education. The findings are consistent with studies showing that girls from countries where gender equity is more widespread are more likely to perform well on math assessment tests. "Having an adequately prepared STEM workforce is about homeland security and national defense, green economy and high-tech jobs that would be here on American soil," says AAUW's Lisa Maatz.
Genetic Inspiration Could Show the Way to Revolutionize Information Technology
University of Reading (06/28/10)
A synthetic form of DNA developed by University of Reading chemists has the potential to revolutionize the way digital information is processed and stored. The researchers designed and synthesized short sequences of a synthetic information-bearing polymer. Information densities that are several million times greater than current systems could be possible with synthetic polymer systems. The synthetic form of DNA would depend on tweezer-shaped molecules to pick out information along a polymer chain. Several tweezer molecules would bind next to one another along the chain, and read and translate extended, long-range, polymer-sequence information. "This type of process is paralleled in the processing of genetic information," says Reading professor Howard Colquhoun. "In the future, we plan to develop methods for writing new information into the polymer chains with the long-term aim of developing wholly synthetic information technology, working at the molecular level."
An Internet 100 Times as Fast
MIT News (06/28/10) Hardesty, Larry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers led by Vincent Chan have developed a new network design for optical signals that uses less energy and significantly increases data transfer speeds. The researchers' method, called flow switching, eliminates the inefficient process of converting optical signals to electrical ones, which could make the Internet as much as 1,000 times faster. The researchers say flow switching solves the inefficiency problem by establishing a dedicated path across the network. For certain wavelengths of light, routers along that path would accept signals coming from only one direction and send them off in only one direction. Because there is no possibility of signals arriving from multiple directions, there is no need to store them in memory. In a flow-switching network, the allotment of bandwidth would change constantly. As traffic between two locations increased, dedicated wavelengths would be allocated to handle it. The researchers also developed network management protocols that can quickly perform the reallocations.
Robofish Leads the Crowd to Open Up New Studies in Group Dynamics
University of Leeds (06/28/10)
A shoal has accepted a robotic fish as one of its own, according to scientists at the University of Leeds. The team developed a computer-controlled replica of a fish, called Robofish, and programmed it to follow a set path at a slightly faster speed than an actual fish. The team placed Robofish in a tank with either a single fish or a group of 10 to see if they would follow it away from the refuge area and make a 90-degree turn. Single fish followed behind the Robofish much sooner than groups of fish, while both single fish and groups made a turn. The team believes Robofish could help scientists learn more about freshwater and marine environmental management, fish migration routes, and the impact of human intervention on fish populations. "We've proven it's possible to use robotic fish to study relationships between individuals and shoal dynamics as well as the behavior of individual fish," says Leeds' Jolyon Faria, who led the experiments. "Because the robotic fish is accepted by the shoal, we can use it to control one or several individuals, which allows us to study quite complex situations such as aggressive, cooperative, anti-predator, and parental behavior."
A Pacemaker for Your Brain
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (06/28/10)
An international research team is developing a chip that could enable doctors to precisely control deep brain stimulation, and thus rehabilitate people with brain injury and disease. The team's methodology is to implant electrodes in diseased or injured areas of the brain to record and analyze the activity, and then develop algorithms to simulate healthy neuronal activity. The algorithms would be programmed into a chip, called the Rehabilitation Nano Chip (ReNaChip), which would be connected to tiny electrodes that are implanted in the brain. The ReNaChip could be etched onto the electrodes themselves as they become smaller, but the electrodes would only be inserted into the brain for therapeutic purposes. Further miniaturization of the deep brain electrodes would enable the team to add more sensors. "The chip itself can be implanted just under the skin, like pacemakers for the heart, ensuring that the brain is stimulated only when it needs to be," says Tel Aviv University professor Matti Mintz. The platform would be flexible enough to provide a basis for different clinical experiments and to be used in tools programmed for specific disorders.
Flash! Supercomputing Goes Solid-State
Government Computer News (06/24/10) Kenyon, Henry
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL's) Hyperion Data Intensive Testbed uses more than 100 terabytes of flash memory to demonstrate how flash can be used in supercomputing. The Hyperion testbed, part of the U.S. Department of Energy's high-performance computing initiative, is designed to support the development of new computing capabilities for the next generation of supercomputers. The testbed is a partnership between LLNL and 10 participating commercial firms, which are testing technologies that will be used in LLNL's upcoming Sequoia supercomputer. The project also will examine methods to directly use flash memory without a file system, says LLNL's Mark Seager. "We think that that will probably give us the best random [input/output operations per second (IOPS)] performance," Seager says. The project hopes to achieve a performance in excess of 40 million IOPS.
Quantifying Human Behavior--One MoCap Data Point at a Time
USC News (06/23/10)
The University of Southern California (USC) is studying expressive human behavior through improvisation and motion-capture technology. "The Holy Grail is to be able to build technologies to mimic aspects of human behavior," says USC professor Shri Narayanan. He says such technologies could be used to help autistic children, create advanced methods for recognizing human speech and visual behavior, and quantify humor. "The applications are limitless given the fundamental nature of the issue we're addressing--understanding human behavior," says USC professor Sharon Carnicke. Using actors equipped with motion-capture sensor suits, the researchers can record data for certain variables. As the actors move, the sensors record each movement, generating data that, when annotated, provides a method to quantify aspects of human communication and interaction. "What matters are not the new insights they lead to about human behavior--but those that can be translated into useful applications," Narayanan says.
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