Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either HP or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 4, Issue 384: Friday, August 9, 2002
- "Lights, Camera, Legislation"
CNet (08/07/02); Hu, Jim
On Thursday, the FCC will debate digital broadcast copy protection, which movie studios such as Disney are clamoring for, against the protests of the high-tech industry. High-tech companies are placing big bets on the advent of digital entertainment, and the entertainment industry has responded by rallying itself to assert control over the use and dissemination of its digitized intellectual property. Hardware manufacturers would be saddled with the responsibility of installing anti-copying measures in their products, according to legislation proposed by Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) that media companies favor. Many high-tech industry executives oppose the bill, on the grounds that it would curtail consumers' fair-use rights. "The appropriate step is not to take technology wholesale away from customers, but to create new businesses around content with digital rights management and to use legal measures against large-scale copyright violators," argues Sonicblue CTO Andy Wolfe. The FCC wants everyone to adopt high-definition TV broadcasts for the mass market, a move that could open the floodgates for widescale piracy of digital programming. The Broadcast Protection Discussion Group has proposed that digital TV manufacturers install transmission encryption technology that prevents recorded programs from being distributed online. House and Senate members have lobbied FCC Chairman Michael Powell to draft standards that include such measures, but major computing and consumer electronic firms are against it, claiming that the entertainment industry has a controlling interest in the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group.
- "OECD Publishes Cyber-Security Guidelines"
IDG News Service (08/08/02); Williams, Martyn
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a new version of its cyber-security guidelines this week after updating them for the first time in a decade. The U.S. State Department has praised the revised guidelines as an attempt to characterize a "new international understanding of the need to safeguard the information systems on which we increasingly depend for our way of life." The main thrust of the guidelines is the creation of a culture of security that should apply to every facet of information systems, from planning to everyday use, and all who use them. The OECD expects that the guidelines will encourage international cooperation and collaboration, even though they are non-binding among the agency's 30 member nations. The rules are supplemented with nine information security principles that stress awareness, responsibility, response, ethics, risk assessment, democracy, security design and deployment, security management, and reassessment. The new guidelines were adopted last month as a recommendation of the OECD Council, and the United States says it plans to base several security efforts on them, particularly in agencies' outreach programs to other governments, the public, and the private sector.
- "Congress Reassesses Tech Office"
Wired News (08/07/02); Mitchell, Dan
Congress has gone without its independent technology assessment body for seven years since its funding was cut by Republicans in 1995. Now, calls are growing for the reestablishment of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which provides unbiased reports on a range of issues for Congress. Past reports have helped Congress make better decisions on issues such as global warming, missile defense, and the economics of fuel-efficiency standards. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has so far gathered 86 co-sponsors for his bill that will allow the formation of a new OTA. Holt's previous attempt to create a scaled-down version of the OTA was rejected by the House Rules Committee before it even got to the House floor. Critics of the OTA say that its reports were more supportive of left-wing arguments and that scientific and technical advice is available from outside sources, including think-tanks, academic institutions, and the national academies of science and engineering. Matthew Bunn, recently an assistant director of science, technology, and public policy with the Harvard Kennedy School, says the OTA reports usually serve to uncover faulty reasoning that underlies the arguments of ideologues from both political parties.
- "New Method Said to Solve Key Problem In Math"
New York Times (08/08/02) P. A16; Robinson, Sara
Three Indian Institute of Technology researchers have devised a new algorithm that enables computers to identify prime numbers rapidly and accurately. This could have significant ramifications for data encryption, where prime numbers are an essential ingredient. For instance, the security of the popular RSA algorithm, which is used to ensure the safety of online transactions, depends on the difficulty of uncovering a number's prime factors. "This was one of the big unsolved problems in theoretical computer science and computational number theory," notes Shari Goldwasser of MIT and the Weitzmann Institute of Science. "It's the best result I've heard in over 10 years." The three Indian researchers have detailed their work in a paper posted on the Web page of the Indian Institute of Technology's computer science department. They have also emailed the paper to numerous mathematicians and computer scientists. The algorithm is important mainly from a scientific point of view, since applications already exist that can identify prime numbers even faster and with small probability of error.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Data Crunch Looks to Optics for Relief"
EE Times Online (08/08/02); Brown, Chappell; Robinson, Gail
Demand for dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) optical networking is being sparked by the corporate need to transfer and manage large amounts of data, and Todd Bundy of Adva Optical Networking believes storage could become optical networking's "next killer app." It is estimated that storage management costs, which currently devour 55% of the average corporate IT budget, will consume 75% in 2003; Bundy reckoned at an Information Gatekeepers conference that DWDM could cut data management costs to 15% of the IT budget. "Low-cost storage creates a demand for more bandwidth, which reduces the cost of storage further, leading to the demand for even more bandwidth--it's a self-fulfilling cycle," he explained. Optical networking also offers faster backup: Bundy noted a comparative study of how rapidly three different networks would be able to back up a 60-terabyte archive to a remote location, and a 32-channel WDM system was the fastest with a duration of three hours. The OC-3 and Fibre Channel networks took 49 days and eight days, respectively. Rapid access to remote data centers is another advantage of optical networking, and is especially useful for enterprises that are moving away from local storage-area networks as a result of Sept. 11. Bundy says using optical in such a situation means that, "When I hit a key, it looks like the storage is in the next building or down the hall or in the room next door, where in fact it may be 70 miles away."
- "Italy Sponsors Technology Transfer to Developing Countries"
Associated Press (08/08/02); Rizzo, Alessandra
Italy, under the leadership of technology minister and former IBM executive Lucio Stanca, has embarked on several projects to make information technology accessible to the poor people of developing countries. Reducing the digital divide in these nations will increase transparency and accountability in public administration, which would improve their chances for receiving traditional forms of aid such as loans and investments. Projects that Italy is undertaking include demographic survey computerization in Albania, an e-procurement system for Jordan, a Tunisian electronic tax collection database, and real estate databases for Mozambique and Nigeria. The Italian program received support and sponsorship from Premier Silvio Berlusconi at the last G-8 summit in Canada. Thus far, Italy--with the assistance of the World Bank and private telecom firms--has raised most of the 12 million euros that are being channeled into the projects' initial phase.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Breakthrough Technique Promises More Complex Chips"
NewsFactor Network (08/07/02); Lyman, Jay
IBM and Nion researchers disclosed the development of an electron microscope of unmatched precision in the Aug. 8 issue of Nature. They claim the device can produce an electron beam a mere three billionths of an inch wide. The unparalleled accuracy yielded by the beam will allow scientists to draw new insights about the placement and interaction of atoms, and how these factors impact the performance of computer chips and other devices. What is more, the power requirement of the device's operation is low enough so that there is little worry about damaging silicon semiconductors, explains IBM researcher Philip Batson. He describes the technique as "a smaller, cheaper, better way" to visualize atomic-scale structures. The researchers say that scientists could use the method to eventually set environmental conditions that promote chip self-assembly. They add that they have achieved real-time correction of aberrations by integrating new sets of magnetic lenses with computers. "We'll be able to start locating the position of carbon atoms within three to four years with this technology," Batson predicts.
- "Computer Talk"
Washington Times (08/08/02) P. B1; Toto, Christian
Synthesized speech technology is being furthered by advances in computer technology, and is now able to completely recreate people's voices using complex software. And although the technology is not cheap, its use is spreading to many areas. When someone talks, their voice can be broken down into phonemes, the smallest building blocks of speech. Speech programs rebuild these phonemes into completely new dialogues. American University director of audio technology Benjamin Tomassetti says that sound fidelity is no longer an issue thanks to vastly improved computer processors. Now the intelligence of the software is the issue, since good computerized speech has to be able to understand written abbreviations when reading text, for example. The National Weather Service, which uses computer voices to broadcast emergency weather updates in real time, has to tweak its software for each geographical region to account for local pronunciations of place names. AT&T Labs speech technologies vice president Bryant Parent says that advances in speech technology now enable companies to save and reconstruct the voices of their celebrity spokespersons. The technology has also been a boon to the blind, as software can read email messages as well as convert spoken messages to text. Voice technology is also expected to play an increasing role as an interface to the Web as well as in cars.
- "New Homeland Security Agency Is Looking For a Few Good Nerds"
Investor's Business Daily (08/09/02) P. A4; Tsuruoka, Doug
The Department of Homeland Security's most pressing problem is connecting its computer systems to those of other federal agencies, and RBC Capital Markets analyst Cynthia Houlton notes that this effort is complicated by a shortage of IT workers, thanks to a decade's worth of layoffs in the federal workforce and defections to the private sector. She expects a significant portion of the department's $38 million anti-terror budget for 2003 will be used to contract outside technology workers to modernize legacy computer infrastructures. Houlton also anticipates homeland security spending to focus on the simplification of cross-agency database searching. She says the government is in the market for such skills as database and network management, and network security certification; however, she notes that potential employees will be screened for work on sensitive projects. Houlton says the Defense Department and intelligence agencies will also utilize outside contractors, especially for initiatives with classified personnel. Houlton believes that the postponement of federal homeland security initiatives will only last two to three months while the government resolves the issue of cross-agency communication.
- "Team Recruits for Tech Careers"
Federal Computer Week Online (08/06/02); Caterinicchia, Dan
In order to draw more youths to math, science, and technology, two agencies have pledged to combine their resources. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the National Sciences Center (NSC) will work together to instill interest about technical careers in pre-college students, says Maj. Gen. James Bryan, vice director at DISA. The NSC, which is already supported by the U.S. Army, will help promote math and science jobs while the Defense Department's DISA will focus on IT. Bryan says youths in the U.S. need to be addressed in middle school to effectively engage their attention. Meanwhile, the NSC's Fort Discovery in Augusta, Ga., serves as headquarters for a number of national educational outreach programs. The center feature's include some 300 interactive displays, a computer lab, science store, and so on. The DISA intends to work with the center's programs and develop new ones, such as an IT-focused camp.
- "Charmed by Six Feet of Circuitry"
New York Times (08/08/02) P. E1; Gillespie, Curtis
The highlight of the 2002 conference of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence in Alberta, Canada, was Grace (Graduated Robot Attending Conference), a machine that was the end result of a project that integrated the technology and expertise of five educational and research institutions. Grace incorporated hardware and software architecture from Carnegie Mellon University, speech recognition software from the Naval Research Lab, pattern-recognition software from Swarthmore College, PowerPoint presentation software from Northwestern University, and a gesture interpretation system from Metrica. The combined effort of these institutions helped Grace successfully complete the Robot Challenge, a key event in which several robots were tasked to travel from the conference center entrance to the registration desk, sign in, and deliver a speech in the auditorium at a set time. Meeting the Robot Challenge was not without its problems: There was a delay as Carnegie Mellon graduate students tweaked Grace's performance vectors using infrared laptop connections, and faulty voice-recognition equipment caused her to misinterpret spoken instructions as to where she should go. Carnegie Mellon's Dr. Reid Simmons helped conceive the challenge, which he said was an attempt "to see if we could get a robot to do something that normal humans do." Robots from MIT and iRobot also participated in the challenge, but were unable to complete it. During her speech, Grace detailed her inner workings, which include a chassis with a pair of Linux-enabled Pentium chips; stereo and monocular active heads that provide vision; a wireless communication link; a flat panel display; sonar; and a laser range finder.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "IBM, DARPA Team on Low-Power Computing"
IDG News Service (08/07/02); Cowley, Stacy
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will commit $2 million to an IBM research project to make high-end computing systems more reliable and energy efficient, the partners announced today. The project will be part of DARPA's Power Aware Computing/Communication (PACC) initiative, which is designed to reduce power limitations that restrict missile and satellite missions, among other things. IBM's Low Power Center, established just 10 months ago, has already yielded designs for IBM's 405LP PowerPC chip and a prototype of its Super Dense Server. The military applications of the research IBM will conduct for DARPA will be tested with prototypes that defense contractor BAE Systems is planning to build in 2003. The energy-efficient devices stemming from the effort will be used internally by IBM, which also plans to create design-analysis tools that will enable PowerPC processors to estimate and study systems' power consumption and performance levels. DARPA and IBM have teamed up before on projects that include research on security, parallel computing, and cognitive computer systems.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "HP Looks to Keep Systems Cool"
InfoWorld.com (08/06/02); Krill, Paul
Hewlett-Packard announced on Tuesday an initiative to produce technologies that aim to dissipate heat generated by computer chips and datacenters. The company reports that heat output is a growing problem, and estimates that chips just one-eighth of an inch square will soon generate an amount of heat equal to that of a 100-watt bulb. One proposed HP solution involves converting inkjet printing cartridges into cooling mechanisms that dispense dielectric liquid coolant onto chips. HP servers are expected to boast the technology in two to three years, while desktop systems could have it in three to five years. Also in the planning stages is a "smart cooling" approach to datacenter operations, one that would dynamically apportion workloads and cooling so that a 15-megawatt datacenter could save $1 million annually in energy costs. The plan will involve a wheeled robot that measures heat and relays its findings wirelessly to the cooling system, which then makes appropriate adjustments; the device could start being shipped in about a year. Meanwhile, software for an Energy Manager System, which would distribute workloads to different systems to get the most out of heat efficiency, should show up in approximately three years. Chandrakant Patel of HP Labs reports that the company wants to eventually use grid computing so that computing can be carried out in the best locations on a global scale.
- "Atomic 'Thinning' Could Allow Instant Boot-Up, Memory Access"
NewsFactor Network (08/08/02); Lyman, Jay
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) say they have hit upon a method for maintaining the thinness of atomic layers used for electronics and computer material, which could pave the way for magneto-resistive random access memory (MRAM) as well as microelectronic materials. The scientists explain that the inexpensive technique involves the placement of flat, ultrathin metallic layers atop thin oxide layers, which results in faster magnetic effects for computer memory, reduced energy requirements, and less heat output. The minimal current needed to operate devices made from the flat materials could also allow nonvolatile data storage in MRAM, according to Sandia Labs principal technical staff member Dwight Jennison, who adds that the read and write heads of hard drives could also benefit from the layering method. The advantages of MRAM include instant memory access and computer boot-up. Researchers note that the layering technique can be carried out at room temperature, and is supported by equipment that already exists in chip manufacturing plants. "It's up to the companies to implement this change," explains PNNL chief senior scientist Scott Chambers.
- "Resumes Pile Up, Yet Key Jobs Open"
Network World (08/05/02) Vol. 19, No. 31, P. 1; Dubie, Denise
Companies say it is difficult finding employees with senior level IT skills, while at the same time a half-million technology workers overall are expected to lose their jobs this year. Last year, about 500,000 tech workers lost jobs. According to a People3 2002 survey, database administrator was cited by 54.5 percent of the survey's respondents as being a difficult position to fill. Internet/Web architect positions were cited as difficult to staff by 40.9 percent, project manager by 37.1 percent, and network engineer by 31.1 percent. Rix Dobbs, who has 25 years of experience in the IT industry, has been without steady work for over a year and says that, despite news reports about technology openings, "I'm not seeing any available, especially not in my skills area." Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports the IT sector shed nearly 250,000 jobs during first half 2002, which represents 33% of all U.S. jobs lost during this year. Unemployment in the IT sector has responded to the slight recovery in the overall economy, says ITAA President Harris Miller. Recruiting specialist Jeremy Schulman says companies today are looking for the perfect fit, are taking a slower approach to hiring, and are using more extensive background checks to veteran candidates. People3's Diane Berry says, "A few years ago companies were struggling to get people in the door, now the pain is getting the right people that will be there for the long haul."
- "Speech Technologies For the 21st Century"
Customer Interaction Solutions (07/02) Vol. 21, No. 1, P. 38; Kassel, Rob
The increasing sophistication of speech recognition and speech synthesis technology--and the convergence of the two--is yielding interfaces that are changing phone-directed business and will soon make a significant impact on how users access and control devices regardless of their location. A computer uses speech recognition to capture audio signals, process them much the same way the human ear processes sound, then label phonemes and string them together into allowable words and phrases. The technology has developed to a point where factors such as accents, background noise, and multiple vocabularies no longer interfere. Computers are able to speak arbitrary phrases through speech synthesis technology, which splits recorded speech into small segments and reorders them into requested phrases. Combining these two technologies into an intuitive system that sounds natural and spontaneous is a challenge for designers, who must anticipate responses and carefully word prompts. Both technologies rely on a great deal of processing power and memory, but developments in handheld devices are facilitating the migration of such capacity outside of server systems; such developments include cheap, lightweight flat panel displays, increased battery capacity and power efficiency, more accurate location tracking, and the proliferation of wireless data networking. Embedded speech technologies will enable future generations of handhelds to merge and move beyond mobile phone and PDA capabilities, and conduct complex tasks by harnessing network resources on an as-needed basis, but some types of data may be ill-suited for such operations: A universal multimodal interface is seen as the best solution, but the spoken interface currently lacks a common control. An industry-wide consortium is seeking to create one by developing the Speech Application Language Tags standard.
- "Uncommon Sensors"
Government Executive (07/02) Vol. 34, No. 9, P. 44; Peters, Katherine McIntire
More useful and precise sensor technology is expected to develop thanks to advances in microelectronics, manufacturing, and wireless systems, according to researchers. Investments in military space and missile defense projects are directly responsible for many sensor breakthroughs, and the industry's recent growth is attributable to the push in homeland security and military initiatives. James Gole and Peter Hesketh of Georgia Tech have created a small sensor from porous silicon designed to detect minuscule amounts of gas quickly by harnessing the silicon's ability to emit light in the presence of such substances, when tweaked with metal ions; in addition to helping soldiers avoid poison gas in battlefield conditions, the researchers believe the devices could be clustered into networks that monitor air and water quality, analyze blood chemistry, and test for pathogens. Furthermore, the sensor boasts low manufacturing costs, consumes less power than a wristwatch, and can be reused. Another sensor developed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute reads terahertz radiation, which yields images superior to ultrasound and x-rays; this technique could be used to detect early-stage diseases as well as bacteria in packages. Sensors connected by a wireless network also hold promise, particularly in the field of security: Crossbow Technology has created a radar sensor that relays object signatures to a base station, and a network of them distributed over a wide area could provide a detailed view of the region. In an interview with MIT's Technology Review magazine, Sandia National Laboratories' Gerald Yonas declared that networked sensors will be essential to counter-terrorist strategies by providing real-time targeting data to weapons systems. Meanwhile, Crossbow Technology CEO Mike Horton believes that the shrinking cost and size of sensors will make the technology ubiquitous in a few years.