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Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 5, Issue 551:  Monday, September 29, 2003

  • "Europe Shows Little Patience Over Patents"
    Financial Times (09/29/03) P. 12; Cane, Alan; Tait, Nikki

    The European Parliament recently issued a new software copyright directive that neither side says clarifies the issue, and many expect the new directive to be just a middle point in a long battle over software patents. Unlike Japan and the United States, which patent not only software but business processes as well, Europe does not allow patented software. Instead, Europe uses copyrights, as bestowed on literature and music. Software patent proponents argue the protections are needed to ensure the value of inventions, while opponents say ownership of ideas limits other people's creativity. The new directive defines what software can be patented, but the law still has to be approved by European Union member states and may be returned to the parliament for redrafting. Patent law experts say the new ruling on "computer-implemented inventions" actually harms intellectual property in Europe because of its open wording, which could undermine existing IT patents. IT law specialist Alex Batteson says digital television and mobile communications, for example, could be upset by wording in the new directive that ensures companies' rights to create interoperable systems. Marks & Clerk lawyer John Collins says the current debate is certainly not settled and that the new directive does not give either open-source or intellectual property advocates a clear advantage. Still, Alex Hudson of the Association for Free Software says he is reasonably happy with the final wording of the new directive, particularly the wording that data processing procedures or software running on a computer cannot be considered a "technical contribution," and, importantly, that software itself cannot be patented. However, lawyer John Collins says the directive is not a victory for the open-source movement, and "all we're fighting over is the middle ground--where you put the fences."
    http://search.ft.com/search/article.html?id=030929000845

  • "Guarding Privacy vs. Enforcing Copyrights"
    New York Times (09/29/03) P. C1; Schwartz, Jon

    Clashing ideologies are making it difficult to balance the need to uphold online privacy with protecting copyrights. Both of these issues were highlighted in several coinciding incidents: The wave of anger engendered by the recording industry's lawsuit against over 200 alleged file-swappers, and indignation that JetBlue Airways gave a military contractor customer records as part of a test program to spot possible terrorists by combining such data with another firm's personal financial information. Public Knowledge lawyer Mike Godwin explains that rights concerning privacy and intellectual property are fundamentally different--copyright and patent rights are constitutional rights that protect only the specific representation of a concept or information, while the right to privacy protects the information itself. "These are two different bodies of law--the legal theories are different," Godwin notes. Alan Davidson of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) says that his organization's vision of an open, decentralized Internet is being endangered by intellectual property safeguards. Davidson testified at a recent congressional hearing that the law which allows copyright holders to get subpoenas to strong-arm ISPs into revealing the names of suspected file-swappers and copyright infringers must be revised, and high-tech civil liberties advocates have declared such measures anti-privacy. Davidson says the CDT wants "to find the places where there might be middle-ground solutions." Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation supports both the protection of music file traders and online privacy; foundation legal director Cindy Cohn asserts that the subpoena provision allows copyright owners to violate file traders' privacy with little judicial oversight.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/29/technology/29NECO.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "IM Worms Pose Growing Threat"
    IDG News Service (09/26/03); Roberts, Paul

    Symantec Security Response researchers Eric Chien and Neal Hindocha reported at the Virus Bulletin conference Sept. 26 that the fast adoption of instant messaging technology and increasing numbers of IM security vulnerabilities could give rise to worms far more virulent than precursors such as Code Red, Slammer, or Blaster. Chien noted that approximately 60 IM security holes have been documented thus far, and such vulnerabilities could be used to launch denial of service attacks on IM clients, or let hackers remotely deploy and run malware on computers running the targeted clients. He said hackers are already exploiting such weaknesses to breach individual computers, but Hindocha commented that an IM worm could be created by blending these flaws with hacker applications created using applications programming interfaces from major commercial distributors; such worms could transmit virus files or Trojan horse programs to IM users or steal a remote user's IM "buddy" list without being detected. Acquiring the buddy list means IM worms do not have to scan the Internet for IP addresses of target systems. The Symantec researchers discovered that the most popular IM networks are designed with speed and user support prioritized over security, while Hindocha pointed out that sensitive data such as user passwords are not encrypted and can be acquired with little difficulty. Chien noted that IM network communication is frequently dependent on centralized servers, allowing IM companies to rapidly filter attack traffic for all users once new threats are established; and companies can also force unpatched users to update their client software by refusing them network access. Strategies Chien outlined for security-conscious IM companies included obstructing communication ports used by common IM customers, setting up full-inspection firewalls, and employing encryption.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,112667,00.asp

  • "U.S. Readies Program to Track Visas"
    Washington Post (09/29/03) P. E1; Reddy, Anitha

    The Homeland Security Department in November intends to release plans for the U.S. Visitor and Status Indication Technology (U.S. VISIT) project, a system that seeks to keep track of every foreign visa-holder in the United States. The program, which analysts estimate will cost $3 billion to $10 billion, is designed to prevent criminals and terrorists from securing visas, and three firms--Accenture, Computer Sciences, and Lockheed Martin--will each organize a team of companies to bid on the U.S. VISIT contract. U.S. VISIT will involve American consular officials fingerprinting and photographing visa applicants in their home countries, and then checking to see if they correlate with terrorist watch lists and criminal databases; agents at border crossings will electronically scan travelers' index fingers to verify their purported identities, and a huge travel and visa database will automatically warn the government of visa expirations. The system will scan only one out of five foreign travelers to the United States, and most foreign visitors do not require visas because they come from 27 nations determined not to be a security risk. Experts warn that the system will be unable to stop people who sneak past borders or individuals sent by malevolent organizations with clean histories. Other factors that may impede the deployment of U.S. VISIT include difficulties in sharing information across 19 separate networks, and unwillingness on the part of other governments to share their visitor files. "I think it's safe to say for non-[Defense Department] programs this is one of the largest efforts to integrate databases together," notes Lockheed Martin's Dick Fogel. Civil rights proponents are concerned that the system could be used to monitor other groups besides foreign visitors and infringe on Americans' privacy.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "A Sense of Wonder at MIT Emerging Technologies Conference"
    Linux.com (09/26/03); Schlesinger, Lee

    Speakers at this week's MIT Emerging Technologies Conference imparted their predictions on future technological advances and the strategies companies can follow to maximize innovation and profitability. Intel's David Tennenhouse led a discussion about the next projected computing milestone: The coming of more proactive, intuitive computing through the advent of network-embedded computers that provide real-time data; this breakthrough will be enabled by ubiquitous computing, planetary-scale distributed systems, new probabilistic machine learning techniques, and physical control of chemical and biological elements. Tennenhouse commented that IT is migrating out of the home and office and into the environment through innovations such as smart dust, and he added that computers will be able to extrapolate cause and effect relationships from raw data thanks to Bayesian networks and stochastic modeling. The Technology Review 100 event showcased the efforts of the top 100 innovators under 35, whose work included collaborative spam filters, printable silicon chips, and robots with "humanized intelligence;" the conference featured a panel containing four T100 recipients who agreed that they chose their respective fields because of a "coolness" factor. Keynote speaker and Intellectual Ventures co-founder Nathan Myhrvold advocated the Widely held belief that optimists make the best innovators, and he said the best technologies are those that exhibit exponential growth, such as semiconductors, software, and communications bandwidth. He added that genomics and nanotechnology are candidates for such growth. Lawrence Burns of General Motors foresees the replacement of the internal combustion engine, petroleum fuel, and mechanical control with fuel cell technology, hydrogen fuel, and electronics and software, while future automobiles will boast a continuous Internet connection via global positioning system and Wi-Fi networking. A wireless networks panel session discussed the potential of mesh networks as a future technology, though their deployment depends on resolving issues related to power efficiency, low latency routing, and protocol standardization.
    http://newsforge.com/newsforge/03/09/26/0026221.shtml?tid=1

  • "Circuit Boards are Here to Stay"
    Electronic News (09/24/03); Davis, Jessica

    Sun Microsystems' John Gustafson claims his company's chip-to-chip "Proximity Communication" technology could eliminate the need for circuit boards, but some industry observers are doubtful. Proximity Communication involves positioning the chips beside one another to effect direct communications, and Gustafson declares chip-to-chip communications speeds could potentially be ratcheted up to trillions of bits per second with such technology. On the other hand, some insiders think that wires, flexible printed circuits, and other established methods are more advanced and employ easier-to-understand technology: Microprocessor Report editor in chief Peter Glaskowsky notes that IBM is looking into chip stacking to boost chip-to-chip communications, and believes that Sun's technology would have little use beyond scientific computing and high-end servers. "When you move away from the processor core into chip-to-chip communications, such as processor to memory, there is little benefit to having those kinds of speeds," he comments. Glaskowsky adds that performance would be raised by just a few percentage points, with costs reduced by the same small proportion, using Sun's technology. He says the Proximity Communication method would probably not drive the circuit board into obsolescence, because the technique could only be used on a few specific chips, such as the memory controller, cache, and processor. Gustafson acknowledges that the replacement of old technology by new is a long process, but is convinced that Sun's technology will eventually be embedded into all multi-chip devices. The Sun research was partially underwritten by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and company researchers disclosed details of Proximity Communication at the recent Custom Integrated Circuits Conference in San Jose, Calif.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Borg Honored for Breaking Tech Gender Molds"
    Silicon Valley Biz Ink (09/26/03); Ascierto, Rhonda

    Computer scientist and Institute for Women and Technology (IWT) founder Anita Borg staunchly fought to have equal gender representation in the technology industry by 2020, a goal that people are still working toward despite her death in April. Her achievements include the creation of Systers, a Web-based networking community that is currently 2,500 members strong, and her dedication to enabling women to penetrate a male-dominated industry while preserving their feminine perspective. "[Borg] allowed women to bring their whole selves to engineering," says computer researcher and IWT consultant Kathy Richardson. "She showed that if you don't bring who you are...your perspective of the world, then you're not actually bringing that diversity into the workplace." Without such a perspective, many tech products end up being impractical and of limited use, explains Google Technology research and systems engineering VP Alan Eustace, a friend of Borg's. The lack of gender parity in the tech sector is partly attributable to male engineers' discomfort at working with women, notes Richardson. Meanwhile, a survey of over 800 female Silicon Valley residents finds that 41 percent of respondents feel they must adapt to a male-dominated workplace in order to better their chances of advancement, whereas only 23 percent of respondents in non-technology jobs feel the same way. The IWT, along with Google, the Computer Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research, and Borg's husband Winfried Wilcke, recently announced a number of yearly cash awards totaling $70,000.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    The IWT was renamed this summer to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

  • "Radio Tags Give Guidance"
    Technology Research News (10/01/03); Patch, Kimberly

    University of Rochester researchers have developed a navigational aid for the visually handicapped that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in a unique way. Most of the current buzz surrounding RFID tags revolves around how the technology is enhancing inventory management by allowing items outfitted with the mobile transponders to be tracked with stationary radio receivers. The University of Rochester's Navigational Assistance for the Visually Impaired (NAVI) system inverts that equation by keeping the transponders stationary and the receivers mobile so that users can keep track of their whereabouts. Associate professor of electrical and computer engineering Jack Mottley explains that users would wear headphones and CD players, and specific tracks on the CDs would be triggered when they come into the range of passive transponders. A NAVI setup would not only help the visually impaired to navigate, but would augment self-guided touring as well, and serve as a cheaper alternative to global positioning systems. The system is assembled from commercially available elements, and deployment is relatively cheap thanks to the low cost, durability, and simplicity of the radio frequency transponders. The most difficult aspect of the NAVI system's development was integrating the radio frequency system's identification tracking function and the CD system's audio playback component. The University of Rochester researchers are working to extend the tag reader's range, while Mottley expects the size of the device will eventually shrink down to something about as small as a portable CD player.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "In the Wild West of the Internet, There are Good Guys and Bad Guys"
    SiliconValley.com (09/28/03); Gillmor, Dan

    Dan Gillmor comments that the community spirit of the Internet endures, despite the medium's commercialization and the proliferation of exploiters and malicious types who seem determined to undermine that spirit in the hopes of making money, wreaking havoc, or aggrandizing their power. Gillmor praises the efforts of communities that work to protect the Internet from companies and governments that seem bent to take it over in the way an immune system shields the body from infection, as well as groups of altruistic "builders" who create Web-based projects and services designed to help the public. One builder the author singles out is entrepreneur Brewster Kahle, whose contributions include the Internet Bookmobile and the Internet Archive, an online record of Web pages that is a vital resource for researchers. Examples of "antibody" community efforts include the Internet Software Consortium's development and release of a software patch designed to counter VeriSign's attempt to profit from URL typos in Web browsers. Gillmor cites a message from his friend David Weinberger, with whom he set up a non-commercial Web site that was exploited by a Web predator, whose efforts were thwarted with the help of benevolent programmers and developers: "It's as if the Internet is not only self-correcting about matters of fact but also morally self-correcting: A bad turn is corrected by several good ones." Gillmor believes that such people deserve more recognition than they currently receive. He also lists the open-source movement as a prime example of the Internet's community spirit.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "We Are All Paparazzi Now"
    Salon.com (09/25/03); Mieszkowski, Katherine

    Publicly accessible webcams are proliferating throughout the world, with more than 10,000 webcams found by a Carnegie Mellon University survey in early September. Paul Lancaster, the Arizona businessman who operates a publicly accessible webcam focused on Heritage Square in Flagstaff, Ariz., says webcams attract huge audiences because of people's innate interest in watching others. The number of publicly available webcams is dwarfed, however, by the number of surveillance cameras deployed by private and government entities nationwide--over 3 million cameras, according to the Security Industry Association. Existing wiretap laws make secretly recording public conversation illegal, but no laws protect people's images recorded in public places. But recently, a county sheriff in Phoenix, Ariz., was ordered to stop webcasting images of female inmates for commercial use via "jailcams." And well-publicized facial recognition systems used by the Tampa Police Department for the 2001 Super Bowl and in Boston's Logan Airport have failed because of immature technology. However, "The Transparent Society" author David Brin warns that webcam technology will continue to improve at the pace of Moore's Law, which states that computer processing power doubles every 18 months. Although webcams inspire "Big Brother" fears, some observers say a public, distributed network of webcams could actually prevent government civil liberty abuses; Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg says the real danger of webcam networks, especially in the government sphere, is the physical infrastructure, which cannot be removed as easily as privacy-infringing legislation.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Samba 3.0 to Be Released Thursday"
    IDG News Service (09/25/03); McMillan, Robert

    The Samba team is ready to release a new version of Samba, the Unix and Linux file server software. The worldwide group of volunteer programmers refers to the Samba 3.0 source code as a "gold" version, which it stands behind as a sign of its production quality. "The main thing with the gold version is it means that large corporations will want to run it," says Jeremy Allison, one of the leaders of the open source Samba project. Samba, which continues to gain acceptance as a complement to the Linux operating system, serves as a clone of the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol used by Microsoft systems for file sharing, printing, authentication, and other network tasks. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Silicon Graphics are among the vendors that ship Samba on Unix and Linux systems. Users will have an easier time migrating Windows NT 4 systems to Samba, which will make better use of the Active Directory services available on Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 products. Samba also works with Microsoft's Server Message Block signing, and is able to support clients working from a variety of character sets.
    http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2003/0925samba30t.html

  • "A Vote Against the Computerized Ballot"
    Technology Review (09/24/03); Rotenberg, Marc

    Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg writes that it would be folly at this point to hand over the vote counting process to electronic systems, in view of their lack of an audit trail and all the security vulnerabilities that have been disclosed recently. He cites a number of reports, including a Johns Hopkins and Rice University study of Diebold voting machines that uncovered faulty management of cryptographic keys and a flaw that allows voters and poll workers to cast extra votes. Another documented case described an incident during the San Luis Obispo County, Calif., 2003 primary in which absentee vote counts were sent to a Diebold-operated Internet site prior to the poll's closing, in violation of election law. Meanwhile, a study conducted by MIT and Caltech found that regular test forms supply more accurate vote counts than direct recording electronic (DRE) systems. Rotenberg thinks an effective solution that shields voter privacy and retains the secret ballot lies in marrying electronic voting systems with paper ballots, a proposal that some DRE system backers oppose for spurious reasons, one being the contention that disabled voters would be excluded from the voting process. Rotenberg recommends that e-voting tech developers pay attention to a recent poll on the National Commission on Federal Election Reform Web site, in which over 50 percent of respondents harbored concerns about e-voting accuracy. He sees wisdom in making open-source software a required component of e-voting systems, or adopting precinct-based optical scan ballots or touch-screen machines that print paper ballots. "Considering how much money will be spent in the next year to select the president of the United States, it is remarkable that more money is not being spent to ensure that the new technologies for vote tabulation actually work," Rotenberg observes.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    For information on ACM's activities regarding e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "Workers Embrace IT That Fosters Coordination; Reject IT That Controls"
    EurekAlert (09/24/03)

    The adoption and overall effectiveness of new IT systems is dependent on the flexibility those technologies offer workers. A study by Pennsylvania State University assistant IT professors shows that IT that imposes strict controls is not as readily picked up by workers, even if it speeds their workflow and offers other functionalities. Changing the nature of people's work has more of an effect than changing how they do old tasks, says study co-author Steve Sawyer, associate professor of information sciences and technology. The study focused on three user groups--software developers, enterprise IT staff, and real estate agents. In the case of the residential real estate agents, the study found that cell phones were widely adopted because of the new and unexpected uses people found for them; cell phones allowed agents to cut ties with the central office and work on the road. With software developers, the researchers looked at the introduction of computer-aided software engineering tools: Many code writers balked at using the new tools because they limited their programming style and contrasted with many developers' self-perception as freewheeling. In the last example, enterprise IT staff faced new enterprise resource planning systems that obviated the need for them to define systems themselves and instead turned them into system managers. Sawyer says the shift also meant programmers, database specialists, and systems analysts had to depend on one another more than before and employ new skill sets. "Trained in mainframe and character-based technologies, IT staff now had to shift to client/server computing," he explains.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Feds Should Boost IT Research, Report Says"
    Federal Computer Week (09/22/03); Edwards, Randall

    The federal government needs to assume a larger role in supporting information technology research, according to a new report by the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. Researchers are facing new challenges, and a broad scope of research can only continue if the federal government increases funding for IT. Agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency must "adjust their strategies and tactics as national needs and imperatives change," according to the board. For example, the board cites homeland security as an area impacting federally funded computer research. The report adds that government support should complement industrial research, and that government sponsorship at the university level will be important for growing the talent base of future IT researchers.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Electronic Paper Reaches Video Speed"
    Nature (09/25/03); Ball, Philip

    Researchers Robert Hayes and Johan Feenstra at the Netherlands-based Philips Research laboratory have developed electronic paper with a switching time fast enough to support moving video, and have also worked out a method to create full-color displays. The breakthrough would allow a plastic sheet overlaid with electronic ink to display an entire library on a page-by-page basis. Monochrome electronic paper co-developed by Philips and E-Ink is comprised of minuscule capsules containing black and white pigments that arrange themselves into images and text in response to an electric current, but their switching time can only accommodate static patterns. The individual pixels of Hayes and Feenstra's display contain a drop of colored, oily ink that diffuses over a reflective white backing layered with transparent conductive material and a water-repellent polymer. Raising the applied voltage increases how much the electronic ink retracts, which enables the ink to display a continuous gray scale, giving monochrome images a high degree of smoothness. The system's switching voltage is low enough to allow the ink to be controlled with a minimum amount of power. The switch between bright and dark states can be accomplished in approximately 10 milliseconds, which yields sharp video. The researchers demonstrate that this same technique could be harnessed to produce full-color displays through the use of three sub-pixels of yellow, cyan, and magenta; such displays could be four times brighter than current liquid crystal-based flat-panel displays, Hayes and Feenstra estimate.
    http://www.nature.com/nsu/030922/030922-10.html

  • "Privacy, Security on Aust Single-Identifier Group's List"
    ZDNet Australia (09/26/03); Pearce, James

    The new Australian Communications Authority (ACA)-backed Australian ENUM Discussion Group is considering privacy, security, and other aspects of a plan to test ENUM in Australia in 2004. ENUM would map telephone numbers to e164.arpa IP numbers, thereby letting people utilize a single identifier for mobile and land-line numbers, faxes, email, and instant messaging. As a result, Internet users ideally would be able to determine another person's email address and other contact data simply by entering the person's telephone number in their own Web browser address fields. The working group is addressing worries that tests of ENUM in other countries have not sufficiently resolved security and privacy concerns. "The privacy issues in particular are one of those issues that have been glossed over in other trials," according to Rowan Pullford of the ACA numbering team. "We've taken on consultants to look at these issues." A consultant with a history working with auDA is assisting the ACA, which acknowledges a lack of experience in handling DNS privacy concerns. A paper for the ACA by Next Generations Networks Frameworks Options Group's Peter Darling identifies issues associated with using live numbers already offering service, and the fact that tests have not included provisions to ensure ENUM data is accurate. Darling proposes setting certain additional standards for the ENUM trial.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Next Small Thing: Paul Saffo Discusses Microscopic Technologies and the Local Economy"
    Almanac (09/24/03); Boyce, David

    Institute for the Future director Paul Saffo says Silicon Valley is well-positioned for the next wave of technological advancement, which will not be in IT as we know it, but rather in biotech and nanotechnology. He predicts that the importance of biotech will dwarf that of IT, and cites replacement organs, synthetic spider webbing, and microbial cleansers as potential biotech wins. California leads the nation in the number of biotech firms based there, with Massachusetts coming in second. Saffo also touts nanotechnology as the continuation of engineering advances, enabling applications such as medical devices that can treat individual cells; he says Alien Technology is one example of a Silicon Valley firm that has a lead in nanotechnology with its "fluidic self-assembly" patent for creating microscopic radio-frequency tags. But Silicon Valley is not yet the center of the coming biotech and nanotechnology revolutions, according to Venture Analytics President Bill Rus. A recent Milken Institute study of states' scientific and technology resources ranked California third behind Massachusetts and Colorado. Although the Milken study faulted for California for inadequate in-state training, it lauded the state's diversity of employment opportunities. Saffo notes Silicon Valley's special environment of accounting, capital gathering, and law expertise that supported previous successes; he says inventors struggle with competing desires to change the world on the one hand, and get rich on the other. These entrepreneurs are critical to Silicon Valley's resurgence, though Saffo says current political attitudes are chasing away the foreign talent needed to birth new enterprises. He says the small number of Indian entrepreneurs returning to Asia will leave an indelible mark on Silicon Valley and faults the government for making foreigners feel unwelcome in the U.S.
    http://www.calmanac.com/thisweek/2003_09_24.mbsaffo.html

  • "Molecular Memory: Carbon-Nanotube Device Stores Data in Molecules"
    Science News (09/20/03) Vol. 164, No. 12, P. 182; Goho, Alexandra

    Chemists at the University of California, Los Angeles, have created a molecular memory device with carbon nanotubes as an electrode, an example of the latest research to develop organic molecules as replacements for silicon to power the electronic devices of tomorrow. UCLA team member Hsian-Rong Tseng says just one gram of the molecules would provide memory capacity for all the world's computers for several years. The device sandwiches catenane molecules, which contain two interlocked rings, between a top metal electrode and a bottom carbon nanotube electrode. When a voltage is applied, one of the molecule's rings switches orientation, thus storing a bit of data. Rice University's James Tour says carbon nanotubes make storing data in individual electrons much cheaper, especially since they are compatible in size and chemical interaction. UCLA lead researcher Fraser Stoddart says carbon nanotubes work much more effectively as molecular electrodes than to ultrathin metal electrodes. Tour says, "This is truly novel," and "a big step in the right direction" to creating memory devices using carbon nanotubes.

  • "Reinventing the Transistor"
    Technology Review (09/03) Vol. 106, No. 7, P. 54; Tristram, Claire

    Hewlett-Packard's Palo Alto facility is a beehive of blue-sky research, much of it focusing on molecular electronics and led by intuitive scientist R. Stanley Williams. Concepts that Williams' team has worked on or is working on include nano imprint lithography, in which ultrasmall chip features are created with a physical mold; an alternative fabrication method whereby devices are "grown" rather than assembled piece by piece; and the construction of a 64-bit crossbar memory composed of titanium and platinum nanowires coated by a layer of rotaxane molecules, which is the group's biggest breakthrough thus far. The goal of all this research is to allow the simple manufacture of microprocessors with smaller and smaller features in order to extend Moore's Law and surpass the economic barrier of optical lithography. Computers made from such circuits would be faster and more powerful than current models, and able to support more advanced artificial intelligence, more accurate simulations, and vaster memory capacity. However, Williams' group must overcome many challenges before molecular electronics can become a reality, and one of the most pressing is determining the material that makes the best molecular switches and being able to produce reliable switches in mass quantities. Williams says one of the toughest barriers his team faces is the fact that "We don't understand the fundamental physics of why molecules switch." Furthermore, recent HP Labs experiments have yielded results that go beyond theorists' ability to explain them. Another impediment to molecular electronics research is the temperamental nature of the experimental gear used by researchers.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/tristram0903.asp