Welcome to the June 10, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
I.B.M. Researchers Create High-Speed Graphene Circuits
New York Times (06/09/11) John Markoff
IBM researchers report that they have fashioned high-speed circuits from graphene, technology that could lead to high-bandwidth communications and a new generation of inexpensive smartphones and TV displays. The researchers built a broadband frequency mixer on a silicon wafer and demonstrated that it is capable of frequency mixing up to speeds of 10 GHz. The graphene film deposited on the silicon is flexible, transparent, and inexpensive to fabricate, and IBM researcher Phaedon Avouris says that these qualities could potentially revolutionize the cost of radio-frequency electronics. One promising application for graphene is opening up new swaths of the radio-frequency spectrum for consumer electronic applications, according to consultant Richard Doherty. He says that graphene is especially intriguing to display makers because the current generation of displays based on organic light-emitting diodes has limited longevity. Avouris says that although IBM can now construct graphene circuits, it is still researching dependable ways to generate large volumes of graphene film.
Chinese Super Breaks World Record in Application Performance
HPC Wire (06/09/11) Michael Feldman
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Process Engineering recently claimed to have run a molecular simulation code at 1.87 petaflops, which represents the highest floating point performance ever achieved by a real-world application code, on the graphics processing unit (GPU)-powered Tianhe-1A supercomputer. The three-hour simulation modeled the behavior of 110 billion atoms, while the previous record-holder for molecular modeling was 49 billion atoms at 369 teraflops. The Tianhe-1A's accomplishment mirrors the larger significance of using GPU technology to drive science and engineering. Last year NVIDIA Tesla general manager Andy Keane warned that the U.S.'s competitive edge could be endangered by its lagging adoption of GPU in high-performance computing. Simulations such as the one Tianhe-1A facilitated support fundamental science research that is applicable to designing upgraded solar energy panels and semiconductor devices.
Why There's No Nobel Prize in Computing
Network World (06/06/11) Bob Brown
Nobel Prizes for the fields of computing, telecom, and information technology do not exist, although the Marconi Society's Marconi Prize, the National Academy of Engineering's Charles Stark Draper Prize, and ACM's A.M. Turing Award are often considered de facto Nobels in communications, engineering, and computing, respectively. Still, ACM and the Marconi Society would like to see a Nobel in computing and/or communications instituted. "We think the quality of our award is comparable, but the word 'Nobel' adds its own cachet," says computer scientist Jim Horning, who co-chairs ACM's Awards Committee. Another advocate for a Nobel Prize in computing is Google's Vint Cerf, who says that even the leading awards recognizing great accomplishments in math, computing, and engineering hardly receive the same degree of public visibility as a Nobel. Stanford University professor Bruce Wooley also says there should be a computing Nobel. "Engineering is more of a creative process than traditional science, even though it can include engineering," he argues. Marconi Society executive director Hatti Hamlin says that pioneers such as Andrew Viterbi, who developed the fundamental operating system for the world's most widespread cell phone networks, deserve the kind of honor the Nobel accords for the impact their work has had on society.
CRISP Presents Self-Repairing Chip
European Commission Research & Innovation (06/07/11)
The European Union-sponsored Cutting Edge Reconfigurable Integrated Circuit Systems (CRISP) project has developed a new method for taking advantage of redundancy in multicore chip designs that could lead to reconfigurable cores and resource management during the program's lifecycle phase. The CRISP project used a new technique involving dynamically reconfigurable cores and resource management to develop a self-testing, self-repairing nine-core chip. "A key innovation is the Dependability Manager, a test generation unit which accesses the built–in, self–test scan chain to effectively perform production testing at run time," says CRISP coordinator Gerard Rauwerda. "This determines which cores are working properly." Adding multiplexers gives the software the ability to switch from functional mode to diagnosis mode to detect faults. "In the future, the aim is to diagnose to a deeper level, to see if we can use more parts of a faulty core," Rauwerda says.
Interview: Dr. Ben Goertzel on Artificial General Intelligence, Transhumanism and Open Source
PhysOrg.com (06/10/11) Stuart Mason Dambrot
Humanity+ chairman Ben Goertzel in an interview elaborated on his recent discussion about the importance of the relationship between minds and worlds and how that relates to artificial intelligence (AI). Goertzel says the design of an artificial general intelligence (AGI) system, in the sense of human-level AI, entails considering not just "a broader level of cognitive processes and structures inside the AI's mind, you need to think about a broader set of tasks and environments for the AI system to deal with." He also says that "the world--the environment and the set of tasks that the AI will do--is very tightly coupled with what is going on inside the AI system," which prompts consideration of both minds and worlds together. Goertzel notes that imbuing curiosity within an AGI is a fundamental motivator fueling research. The ability to experience novelty and the gaining of new knowledge internally is one of the top-level demands incorporated within his group's OpenCog AGI software system, he says. Goertzel says that his work with AGI does not seek to mimic the mind of a specific person, but rather emulate human-like intelligence. "What I'm trying to do ... is just to make a system that's as smart as a human in vaguely the same sort of ways that humans are, and then ultimately capable of going beyond human intelligence," he says. "I'm almost sure that it's not necessary to emulate the cognitive structure of human beings."
UT Researchers Launch SpamRankings to Flag Hospitals Hijacked by Spammers
eWeek (06/08/11) Fahmida Y. Rashid
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Research in Economic Commerce recently launched SpamRankings, a Web site that identifies the names and addresses of organizations that are helping send out spam. The site will publicize spam havens--organizations that have been taken over by spammers. The site's creators are hoping the publicity will pressure organizations to improve their security and spam-prevention efforts. The researchers' initial focus will be on health-care providers that have been infected by spam bots, with future versions of the project including banking and Web hosting providers. Last month SpamRankings identified Belgium's WIN Authonomous Systems as the biggest spam sender in the world. "Nobody wants to do business with a bank or hospital or Internet hosting company that has been hijacked by spammers," says center director Andrew Whinston. The researchers worked with Team Cyrmu, which tracks cybercrime activity to analyze and correlate Internet protocol addresses with organizations.
Watson's Lead Developer: 'Deep Analysis, Speed, and Results'
Computing Community Consortium (06/07/11) Erwin Gianchandani
The challenge of creating a machine that could compete on Jeopardy! was the genesis of IBM's Watson supercomputer, said Watson lead developer David Ferrucci in a keynote speech at ACM's 2011 Federated Computing Research Conference. He said the challenge involved balancing computer programs that are natively explicit, fast, and exciting in their calculations with natural language that is implicit, innately contextual, and frequently inaccurate. Ferrucci also said that it offered a "compelling and notable way to drive and measure technology of automatic question answering along five key dimensions: Broad, open domain; complex language; high precision; accurate confidence; and high speed." An analysis of tens of thousands of randomly sampled Jeopardy! clues revealed that the most common clue type occurred only 3 percent of the time, and this finding led to several guiding principles for Watson's development, including the unsuitabilty of specific large, hand-crafted models, the need to derive intelligence from many diverse techniques, and the primary requirement of massive parallelism. Ferrucci's team eventually designed a system that produces and scores numerous hypotheses using thousands of natural language processing, information retrieval, machine learning, and reasoning algorithms in combination. The research expanded the field of computer science by pursuing goal-oriented system-level metrics and longer-term incentives.
Most Malware Tied to 'Pay-Per-Install' Market
Technology Review (06/09/11) Brian Krebs
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies in Software Development Technologies have found that most personal computers that get infected with malware were targeted by pay-per-install (PPI) services, which charge hacking gangs up to $180 per 1,000 successful installations. Typical installation schemes involve uploading tainted programs to public file-sharing networks, hacking legitimate Web sites to automatically download the files onto visitors' machines, and quietly running the programs on PCs they have already compromised. The researchers developed a map of the distribution of malware and PPI services, and the system classified the collected malware by type of network traffic each sample generated when run on a test system. The researchers found that Europe and the United States were the most common targets. They also found that PPI programs almost always installed bots that engage infected machines using click fraud schemes. "Going into this study, I didn't appreciate that PPI is potentially the number one vector for badness out there," says Berkeley's Vern Paxson. "We have a sense now that botnets potentially are worth millions [of dollars] per year, because they provide a means for miscreants to outsource the global dissemination of their malware."
A Molecule That Switches On and Off
CNRS (06/09/11) Elsa Champion
A molecule that can change states under the influence of an external stimulus has been developed by a team at the Center for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies and could be usable as a bit of information. The two states correspond to different geometries of a molecule, but its composition remains the same. An electron is added to induce the change in shape, and it also presents an additional repelling force that causes certain atoms to pull further away from each other, which changes it from a flat, square configuration to a more voluminous pyramidal configuration. The researchers used a scanning tunneling microscope, which served as both a camera to reveal the molecule's shape and as a tool for injecting electrons. The process is completely reversible, as the molecule releases the electron and recovers a flat shape and neutral charge when a reverse voltage is applied. The team used an atomic force microscope to measure the molecule's charge state in both configurations, and it established a connection between the charge and geometrical shape. The ability to hold a charge and release it on demand has potential applications in synthesizing elementary memory units on a molecular scale, and in producing nanomachines.
Experts: Few Cyberattacks Are Cause for Major Retaliation
IDG News Service (06/08/11) Grant Gross
Most countries' cyberattacks on U.S. networks do not merit commensurate retaliation, according to a panel of national security experts speaking at a cyberwar discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). They said that attacks on private companies and even on the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) network happen all the time and are part of a long tradition of international espionage that the United States and other nations have practiced for years. The CSIS panel came just days after DoD's announcement that it was ready to respond offensively to some cyberattacks. Robert Giesler, formerly with DoD's Office of the Secretary of Defense, said that clear indications of displeasure can be sent through cyberspace. Panelists also said that nations may need to negotiate cyberespionage rules of engagement, with Giesler pointing out that part of the problem with retaliation is the difficulty of precisely identifying a cyberattack's point of origin. In regard to attacks on DoD networks by other countries, the panelists said that a U.S. response is necessary, but should be limited. Former DoD official Judith Miller said a response with force is only warranted when an attack causes major damage or kills U.S. residents. Consultant Franklin Miller said an attack that cripples a large portion of the U.S. electric grid or banking system would probably justify significant retaliation.
AI Programs Do Battle in Ms. Pac-Man
New Scientist (06/06/11) Jacob Aron
The artificial intelligence (AI) controllers developed for the recent Ms. Pac-Man vs. Ghost Team Competition did not perform as well as humans. Although the top score for a Ms. Pac-Mac controller was 69,240, the world record is more than 900,000 points. However, University of Essex computer scientist Philipp Rohlfshagen says the result does not necessarily mean professional human players are better than any AI controller at this stage. "The original ghost team was developed to engage and entertain the human player whereas the ghost teams submitted in the competition were designed to eat Ms. Pac-Man as efficiently as possible," Rohlfshagen says. He says the competition was about serious research. "Games are usually seen as a valuable testbed for new technologies in computational intelligence as they are well defined yet very challenging," Rohlfshagen says. He believes the multi-agent algorithms developed for the ghost controllers could be used for transport or military applications, or for modeling biological dynamics between predators and their prey.
Johns Hopkins Expert Finds Randomness Rules in Turbulent Flows
JHU Gazette (06/06/11) Lisa De Nike
Johns Hopkins University professor Gregory Eyink has determined through computer experiments that turbulent fluid flows are dominated by randomness, and has confirmed earlier theoretical predictions that two identical beads dropped into the same turbulent flow at precisely the same starting point will end up in random destinations. Eyink performed his study using a virtual stream that is part of an online public database of turbulent flow, and into this stream were dropped virtual particles at exactly the same point. Eyink then kicked each particle at random, and the particles followed different pathways when subjected to different kicks. However, Eyink observed that the particles still followed random, divergent paths even as the kicks got progressively weaker, suggesting that particles would follow different paths even without the kicks. Eyink's experiments also verified that the magnetic lines of force that are carried along in a moving magnetized fluid move in an entirely random manner when the fluid flow is turbulent. This operates against the basic precept of magnetic flux-freezing, which dictates that magnetic lines of force are carried along in a moving fluid like strands of thread dropped into a flow.
Einstein Offers Easy-to-Use Genome Analyzer to Scientific Community
Albert Einstein College of Medicine (06/06/11) Kimberly Newman
Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers have developed GenPlay, an open source desktop genome analyzer and browser that enables biologists to process their data. The researchers say GenPlay is a multipurpose tool that can help biologists visualize their data. Dramatically falling costs have led to the generation of a trove of data that biologists are struggling to analyze, says Einstein professor Eric Bouhassira. "GenPlay is intended to make it easier for biologists to make sense of their data," Bouhassira says. He believes GenPlay is better than other genome browsers because it "emphasizes letting biologists take control of their own data by providing continuous visual feedback together with extremely rapid browsing at every decision point during an analysis." GenPlay can handle data from gene expression studies, epigenetic data, and single nucleotide polymorphism data.
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