Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the December 12, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Multi-Purpose Photonic Chip Paves the Way to Programmable Quantum Processors
University of Bristol News (12/11/11)

University of Bristol researchers have developed an optical chip that generates, manipulates, and measures two quantum phenomena, entanglement and mixture, which are essential for building quantum computers. The researchers showed that entanglement can be generated, manipulated, and measured on a silicon chip. The chip also has been able to measure mixture, which can be used to characterize quantum circuits. "To build a quantum computer, we not only need to be able to control complex phenomena, such as entanglement and mixture, but we need to be able to do this on a chip, so that we can scalably and practically duplicate many such miniature circuits--in much the same way as the modern computers we have today," says Bristol professor Jeremy O'Brien. "Our device enables this and we believe it is a major step forward towards optical quantum computing." The chip consists of a network of tiny channels that guide, manipulate, and interact with single photons. "It’s exciting because we can perform many different experiments in a very straightforward way, using a single reconfigurable chip," says Bristol's Peter Shadbolt. The researchers are now scaling up the complexity of the device for use as a building block for quantum computers.


RENCI and Duke to Build Experimental Networking Infrastructure
RENCI (12/08/11) Karen Green

Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Duke University, and IBM are leading a project to build a nationwide testbed for networking and networked cloud computing. The project, which is part of the U.S. National Science Foundation's Global Environment for Network Innovation (GENI) initiative, will operate 13 ExoGENI sites at research universities and labs across the United States using software based on the Open Resource Control Architecture (ORCA) to control the networked cloud infrastructure. Each ExoGENI site will connect to a variety of advanced research networks offering dynamic circuit capabilities and programmable control. Duke, UNC, and North Carolina State University will be linked together using RENCI's Breakable Experimental Network (BEN), which will be connected to the National Lambda Rail, Internet2, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Sciences Network. The ORCA control software will enable researchers to develop on-demand private virtual networks among the research institutions and ExoGENI sites. ExoGENI sites will be able to transfer data at 10 gigabits per second (Gbp/s) and possibly up to 100 Gbp/s in the future. The ExoGENI sites will launch over the next two years, and the first four sites are expected to be fully operational by the end of September 2012.


Computational Modeling for Biotechnology: Predictions for Optimal Production
Center for Genomic Regulation (12/12/11) Juan Manuel Sarasua

The BioPreDyn project aims to develop computational tools that integrate and analyze the large amounts of data in biology and biotechnology, focusing on improving biotechnological processes and applications. The BioPreDyn project is led by the Center for Genomic Regulation and will include researchers from eight European academic labs and three industrial partners. The researchers will develop novel computational tools, methods, and algorithms and integrate them into a user-friendly software platform for research institutions. The modeling tools will enable researchers to design new biotechnological production processes in a reliable way. One of the industrial partners will develop an integrated software platform to support the modeling process. "BioPreDyn presents a holistic approach to model building in bioinformatics and systems biology, targeting both fundamental theory and real-world applications," says the Spanish National Research Council's Julio R. Banga.


Streamlining Chip Design
MIT News (12/08/11) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a system that enables hardware designers to specify, in a single programming language, all of the functions they want a device to perform. The system allows chip designers to designate which functions should run in hardware and which in software, and the system will automatically produce the corresponding circuit descriptions and computer code. The system is based on BlueSpec, a chip-design language that enables designers to specify a set of rules that the chip must follow and convert those specifications into Verilog code. The MIT researchers expanded the BlueSpec instruction set so that it can describe more elaborate operations that are possible only in software. "What we're trying to give people is a language where they can describe the algorithm once and then play around with how the algorithm is partitioned," says MIT student Myron King.


White House Sets Cybersecurity R&D Priorities
InformationWeek (12/07/11) Elizabeth Montalbano

The White House has published a cybersecurity research and development (R&D) roadmap developed by the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy. The roadmap, a product of a seven-year effort by both public- and private-sector experts, lists four areas of R&D concentration. The first priority is inducing change by applying game-changing themes toward the comprehension of the underlying reasons for current cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and devising ways to address them by disrupting the status quo. The next research priority focuses on the development of scientific foundations for cybersecurity, including laws, hypothesis testing, repeatable experimental designs, standardized data collection techniques, metrics, and common terminology. The third area of concentration entails facilitating the most comprehensive research impact by ensuring interagency collaboration, coordination, and integration of cybersecurity improvement operations. The final priority is to accelerate the time it takes to practically apply the cybersecurity research. "Given the magnitude and pervasiveness of cyberspace threats to our economy and national security, it is imperative that we fundamentally alter the dynamics in cybersecurity through the development of novel solutions and technologies," says U.S. chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra and White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt.


Avatars Develop Real World Skills
Economic & Social Research Council (12/07/11) Danielle Moore; Jeanine Woolley

Virtual worlds do not disengage young people from real life, but rather provide unique environments for learning and negotiating new situations, according to academics participating in the Inter-Life project. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the project developed three-dimensional (3D) virtual worlds to serve as informal communities for interacting in shared activities using avatars. As part of the project, young people pursued creative activities such as filmmaking and photography, and were encouraged to use the virtual environments and try new forms of communication, including those used in online gaming. The students coped with different scenarios in their virtual worlds and participated in online communities over several months, showing that they developed skills that are used in real-world settings, such as organizational and cognitive skills. "We demonstrated that you can plan activities with kids and get them working in 3D worlds with commitment, energy, and emotional involvement over a significant period of time," says University of Glasgow professor Victor Lally.


Cyber-Intruder Sparks Massive Federal Response—and Debate Over Dealing With Threats
Washington Post (12/09/11) Ellen Nakashima; Julie Tate

The 2008 discovery that a rogue program had penetrated a classified U.S. military network containing sensitive secrets by piggybacking on a thumb drive has had dramatic repercussions. The incident had a transformative effect on the government's cybersecurity strategy, leading to the establishment of a new military command tasked with fortifying the military's network defenses and making preparations for offensive activities. The U.S. Cyber Command merges the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations and the military's Network Warfare unit. However, the incident also sparked an ongoing debate over the appropriate use of cyberweapons. "The danger is not so much that cybercapabilities will be used without warning by some crazy general," says former U.S. National Security Agency general counsel Stewart A. Baker. "The real worry is they won't be used at all because the generals don't know what the rules are." Also provoking debate is the appropriate response by military commanders in their defense of computer systems. Complicating things further is the overlap between cybersecurity and intelligence operations, says the Center for Strategic and International Studies' James A. Lewis. The rules of engagement currently constrain the military to the defense of its own networks and do not permit it to go outside them without special presidential permission.


Brain-Computer Interface Plays Music Based on Person's Mood
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (12/06/11) Sam Shead

A brain-computer interface (BCI) that plays music based on the mental state of the user is the focus of a new four-year project by researchers at the universities of Reading and Plymouth. "When we perform some cognitive functions our brain generates lots of electrical activity, which can be recognized as fluctuations of tiny electrical potentials using non-invasive techniques," says Reading University's Slawomir Nasuto. "If you can record these fluctuations and recognize what kind of activity is going on, a control command for a computer ... could be provided." The researchers say the BCI will be unique in that the user will not have complete control over how the system responds, and it will recognize the mental state of the user and provide the right stimulus. An electroencephalograph will be used to transfer the electrical signal from the user's scalp via a series of wires to an amplifier box, which will be connected to a computer. The team will use software to identify rules governing musical patterns that produce certain emotions, and embed the rules into the BCI system to generate the music, says Plymouth University professor Eduardo Miranda. The BCI system could serve as a therapeutic aid in treating depression.


Senators, Critics Question ICANN's Generic TLD Plan
IDG News Service (12/08/11) Grant Gross

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN's) plan to introduce hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) next year may be moving too fast, said senators at a recent U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing. Among those who testified against ICANN's plan was YMCA's Angela Williams, who said the introduction of the new gTLDs will be extremely costly for businesses and nonprofit organizations that want to protect their trademarks. ICANN's Kurt Pritz countered that processes have been put in place to protect trademarks. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said that ICANN should implement 12 anti-fraud recommendations that were developed by law enforcement organizations before moving forward with its plans, and Pritz said that ICANN is working with existing registrars to do so. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said that ICANN should address lingering concerns before proceeding with its plans, although he acknowledged that the new gTLDs might spur competition and innovation on the Internet. "If ICANN is determined to move forward, it should do so slowly and cautiously," Rockefeller said. "The potential for fraud, consumer confusion, and cybersquatting is massive and argues for a phased-in implementation."


New '3-D' Transistors Promising Future Chips, Lighter Laptops
Purdue University News (12/06/11) Emil Venere

Researchers at Harvard and Purdue universities have developed a type of transistor made from indium-gallium-arsenide, a material that could replace silicon and have a three-dimensional (3D) structure. The researchers say the technique could lead to faster, more compact, and more efficient integrated circuits and lighter laptops that generate less heat than existing models. They say the chip was created using a top-down method, similar to industrial processes, to precisely etch and position components in transistors. "Here, we have made the world's first 3D gate-all-around transistor on much higher-mobility material than silicon," says Purdue professor Peide Ye. Although nanowires made from silicon have reached 22 nm in size and could eventually reach 14 nm, nanowires made of III-V alloys could reach 10 nm in length, according to Ye. In addition, he says that a device made using a III-V material has the potential to conduct electrons five times faster than silicon. The researchers also applied a dielectric coating made of aluminum oxide using atomic layer deposition, which could represent a practical solution to the approaching limits of silicon transistors.


System Would Monitor Feds for Signs They're 'Breaking Bad'
Government Computer News (12/06/11) Kevin McCaney

Georgia Tech researchers, in collaboration with researchers at Oregon State University, the University of Massachusetts, and Carnegie Mellon University, are developing the Proactive Discovery of Insider Threats Using Graph Analysis and Learning (PRODIGAL) system. PRODIGAL is designed to scan up to 250 million text messages, emails, and file transfers to identify insider threats or employees that are about to turn against the organization. The system will integrate graph processing, anomaly detection, and relational machine learning to create a prototype Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales system. PRODIGAL, which initially would be used to monitor the communications in civilian, government, and military organizations in which employees have agreed to be monitored, is intended to identify rogue individuals, according to the researchers. "Our goal is to develop a system that will provide analysts for the first time a very short, ranked list of unexplained events that should be further investigated," says Georgia Tech professor David Bader.


First Molybdenite Microchip
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (12/05/11)

Researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne's (EPFL's) Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures (LANES) have developed a molybdenite microchip that confirms the potential of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) as an ideal material for use in transistors. "We have built an initial prototype, putting from two to six serial transistors in place, and shown that basic binary logic operations were possible, which proves that we can make a larger chip," says LANES director Andras Kis. Earlier this year LANES researchers discussed why MoS2, a relatively abundant, naturally occurring material, could compete with silicon and even rival graphene in certain areas. Miniaturization is the main advantage of MoS2, as molybdenite can be worked in layers only three atoms thick, which would enable chips to be built at least three times smaller. Molybdenite can amplify electronic signals like silicon, offering an output signal that is four times stronger that the incoming signal. "They can be turned on and off much more quickly, and can be put into a more complete standby mode," Kis notes. The mechanical properties of molybdenite also suggest its potential use as a material in flexible electronics.


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