Welcome to the July 16, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
FCC Is Deluged With Comments on Net Neutrality Rules
The New York Times (07/15/14) Steve Lohr
With the first comment period on new open Internet rules proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set to close on Friday, the agency has already received about 780,000 comments, most of them urging the agency not to pursue rules critics say will be the end of the open Internet. The FCC was ordered to retool its 2010 "Open Internet Order" by the courts earlier this year, prompting a proposal from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler that would allow for "commercially reasonable" deals for access between Internet service providers and Internet content providers. Critics say the proposal would explicitly allow for the creation of a tiered Internet of fast and slow lanes, enabling people to pay for better and faster Internet access and degrading the competition and benefits the Internet has brought to the U.S. economy. Many open Internet advocates want the FCC to instead reclassify Internet service as a common carrier, an option strongly opposed by cable and phone companies, who also oppose "prescriptive rules," saying the Internet is flourishing in the U.S. and does not require further regulation. A second comment period on the proposed rules ends Sept. 10, with the FCC expected to make a final decision by the end of 2014 or early 2015.
Energy Demands of Networked Devices Skyrocket
Technology Review (07/14/14) Suzanne Jacobs
The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released a report projecting that by 2025 networked devices will account for 6 percent of global electricity demand, or about 1,140 terawatt-hours, up from 420 terawatt-hours in 2008. As much as 80 percent of that demand will be used to maintain a network connection, according to the report. "In their current state, network-enabled devices carry an inherent paradox," the IEA report says. "They have enormous potential to deliver diverse efficiencies across many sectors and services, yet they fall far short of their own potential to be energy efficient." The report notes minimizing power consumption in standby mode could reduce the electricity demand of the world's devices by 600 terawatt-hours annually by 2020. Researchers around the world are working on methods to make devices run as efficiently as possible while in standby mode. One alternative approach is spintronics, technology in which information can be stored in the spin states of electrons, a quantum-mechanical phenomenon that can persist even when power is shut off.
Panel Recommends NIST Declare Independence from NSA
Federal Computer Week (07/14/14) Adam Mazmanian
In the wake of revelations by former contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. National Security Agency sought to create a backdoor in an encryption algorithm promulgated by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the standards agency asked its Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT) to issue guidance on improving its cryptographic standards-setting process. VCAT recently voted unanimously to adopt a report written by a select group of technical experts including Google vice president and former ACM president Vint Cerf, Microsoft's Steve Lipner, Princeton University professor Edward Felten, and cryptographer Bart Preneel. The report makes specific recommendations on what actions NIST should take to reestablish its reputation in the cryptographic community, including guaranteeing openness and transparency in the standards-setting processes, increasing the participation of the cryptographic community, developing standards through open competitions, hiring more technical staff, and clarifying the agency's relationship with the NSA. NIST also should make clear that although it may seek NSA's guidance, it should work hard to vet that guidance and reserve the right to reject it. "NIST should draw on NSA's expertise, but NIST must not defer to NSA on security-relevant decisions," Felten says. NIST is expected to respond to the report at VCAT's October meeting.
New Project Aims to Boost Cloud Computing in Europe
CORDIS News (07/15/14)
CLOUDCATALYST recently launched a new website and says it plans to conduct market surveys on cloud adoption in the coming weeks. Launched in October 2013, the project aims to provide the main players in Europe's growing cloud market with information that will lead to a better understanding of businesses and everyday citizens. "The tools that we are developing will help companies adopt and deploy cloud solutions, whatever their different needs and requirements are," says Dalibor Baskovc with project partner EuroCloud Europe. The project will analyze practices across Europe and identify conditions for successful adoption. CLOUDCATALYST also will provide tools to help stakeholders create value-added cloud products and services. The tools consist of the cloud accelerator toolbox and the Go-to-the-Cloud service platform, a collection of management tools bundling together trend analysis, use cases, and practical recommendations in the form of printable report templates and instructional videos. "We will cover all the main issues [related to cloud usage] and give a clear overview on a number of topics such as current cloud trends, critical success factors to overcome major technical barriers, data privacy and compliance requirements, and recommendations for quality of service and SLA," Baskovc says.
The World's First Photonic Router
Weizman Wonder Wander (07/14/14)
A team of scientists from the Weizman Institute in Israel have demonstrated the world's first photonic router in a step toward overcoming the difficulties in building quantum computers. The photonic router was build by a team led by Barak Dayan, head of the institute's Quantum Optics group. At the heart of the router is an atom that can switch between two states, enabling it to redirect photons fired at it through an optical cable. Dayan says the device acts as the photonic equivalent of an electronic transistor. The breakthrough was made possible through the combination of two state-of-the-art technologies: the laser-cooling and trapping of atoms, and the fabrication of chip-based, ultra-high-quality miniature optical resonators. Dayan says the new photonic router will be applicable to future breakthroughs in the design of quantum computers meant to take advantage of the quantum phenomenon of superposition, in which particles can exist in many states at once. Dayan's team plans to continue working in this direction by developing new photonic devices such as quantum memory and logic gates.
Why Apple's Swift Language Will Instantly Remake Computer Programming
Wired News (07/14/14) Cade Metz
Apple's recently announced Swift programming language faces a lot of competition in the race to become the next big programming language--from Facebook's D and Hack languages to Mozilla's Rust--but Swift has several features that are likely to give it a leg up. The new language is fast, seeking to balance the speed and power of compiled and interpreted languages. It also includes a feature called Playground, which enables coders to see the changes they make to their software implemented in real time as they alter the code. Playground will make it easier and faster for coders to learn and adopt Swift. However, its most promising attribute likely is the Apple platform itself. Swift has been developed closely alongside Apple hardware and so far can only be used to develop programs for iPhones, iPads, and Macs. It also represents a vast improvement over the dominant programming language for Apple devices, Objective-C, which was first developed in the 1980s and is showing its age. Paul Jansen, who compiles the Tiobe Index of coder mindshare, says this will give Apple developers a strong incentive to adopt Swift, something Google's Go language lacked.
MIT News (07/14/14) Helen Knight
Researchers at several institutions have jointly developed a phase-change material built from wax and foam capable of switching between hard and soft states that could be used to construct inexpensive robots. Robots made from the material could be used to execute surgical procedures or participate in search-and-rescue operations. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Anette Hosoi and former grad student Nadia Cheng worked with researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and Stony Brook University to develop the material as part of the Chemical Robots program of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA is interested in developing "squishy" robots that can squeeze through tight spaces and then expand again to move around a given area. The researchers coated a foam structure with wax, which enables it to shift between squishy and rigid states. "A lot of materials innovation can be very expensive, but in this case you could just buy really low-cost polyurethane foam and some wax from a craft store," Cheng says. A three-dimensionally printed version of the foam lattice structure was fabricated and tested, and was shown to be more amenable to analysis than the polyurethane foam. Hosoi is exploring the use of other unconventional materials for robotics, including magnetorheological and electrorheological fluids.
Critical Vulnerabilities in Web-Based Password Managers Found
Help Net Security (07/14/14) Zeljka Zorz
Computer hackers could exploit vulnerabilities in popular Web-based password managers and learn users' credentials for arbitrary websites, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. The researchers say they analyzed LastPass, RoboForm, My1Login, PasswordBox, and NeedMyPassword to evaluate their security and to provide advice to "guide the design of current and future password managers." The team uncovered problems with different features, such as one-time passwords, bookmarklets, and shared passwords. The researchers report root causes range from logic and authorization mistakes to misunderstandings about the Web security model, as well as typical vulnerabilities such as CSRF and XSS. "Widespread adoption of insecure password managers could make things worse: adding a new, untested single point of failure to the Web authentication ecosystem," they caution. The team advocates a defense-in-depth approach to thwart attackers. They plan to develop a tool that automates the process of identifying vulnerabilities, and they also intend to work on a principled, secure-by-construction password manager.
Joining the Dots for Quantum Computing
Researchers at Japan's RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science and Purdue University have demonstrated the scalability of quantum dot architectures by trapping and controlling four electrons in a single device. Although scientists have fabricated two- and three-quantum dot devices in the past, the RIKEN and Purdue researchers say they are the first to create a four-quantum-dot structure, proving the scalability of the architecture. "The number of manipulated electrons is increased only by one with respect to previous structures, but even a small increase in the number of electrons significantly increases the complexity of device manipulation," says RIKEN's Matthieu Delbecq. For the new device, each of the dots was formed by three nanoscale metallic electrodes on a semiconductor substrate. "The next step is to form four spin qubits with this architecture and use them to actually perform computations," Delbecq says. He says the results demonstrate quantum dot architecture has the potential to be scaled up to the number of qubits needed to realize a fully functional quantum computer.
Ethical, Autonomous Robots of the Near Future
EE Times (07/14/14) Susan Fourtane
Researchers are giving serious consideration to the ethics of artificial intelligence as they consider a world with autonomous robots. Subfields dealing with the behavior of artificial moral agents and the behavior of humans building and using robots have emerged. One of the most fundamental issues, and one in which many questions remain unanswered, involves the concept of moral competence. In a research paper published earlier this year, Brown University professor Bertram F. Malle and Tufts University professor Matthias Scheutz argue moral competence consists of a moral core, as well as moral action, moral cognition and emotion, and moral communication. In the paper, they describe the moral core component as "a system of norms and the language and concepts to communicate about these norms," including moral concepts and language and a network of moral norms. To design autonomous and morally competent robots, engineers will first need to construct computational representations of norm systems and embed moral concepts and vocabulary into the robotic architecture. Then they will have to develop algorithms that can computationally capture moral cognition and decision-making.
Twitter Tech Used in Award-Winning Garden
University of Lincoln (07/11/14) Marie Daniels
Duncan Rowland, a reader in the University of Lincoln's School of Computer Science, worked on a Gold Medal-winning garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Rowland developed a method for using Twitter to regulate a water feature within a garden, which helped the Essence of Australia garden win Best in Show. The garden demonstrates how the social networking platform can be used to control and affect external objects. The Twitter-controlled garden, called Digital Capabilities, responded to live Twitter activity, enabling the public to directly influence how the garden appeared at any one time. For example, visitors could "wake up" a mythical Rainbow Serpent by tweeting #EssenceOfAus. Rowland's research focuses on exploring the human condition via relationships with digital devices and more traditional media. "It was fantastic to see Twitter activity controlling the water feature, which represented the waking of the mythical serpent," Rowland says. "But what is also nice...is that the curiosity-driven research I initially did on interfacing and Twitter has had such immediate utility. I began by simply turning my desk lamp on and off with Tweets and set up a Tweet-able webcam in my office window. The work developed and was then included in the Digital Capabilities garden last year."
Study Pushes Limits of Ultra-Fast Nanodevices
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (07/10/14)
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have utilized differences in temperature to generate spin currents. "We can use spin current to select '0' or '1' state of magnetic memory devices," says professor David Cahill. "For ultrafast operation of such nano-devices, generation of spin current in picoseconds--one trillionth of a second--a time-scale that is difficult to achieve using electrical circuits, is highly desired." The researchers used ultra-short laser light to create differences between electrons, magnons, and phonons, the three energy reservoirs of a metallic ferromagnet, for a few picoseconds. The temperature difference between electron and magnon drives an exchange of spin-angular-momentum, and the transport of spin-angular-momentum from magnons to electrons leads to ultra-fast spin current. "We refer to this spin current as thermally driven and believe that our results extend the emerging discipline of spin caloritronics into the regime of picosecond time scales," says UIUC researcher Gyung-Min Choi. He also says spin generation by thermal currents has the potential for higher efficiency over electric generation. In addition, Choi notes thermal generation offers a fast timescale, considering a picosecond of spin current would be desirable for fast operation of magnetic memory devices.
U.S. Chases Supercomputing Crown With Multipetaflop Trinity System
IDG News Service (07/10/14) Agam Shah
The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has paid Cray $174 million to develop Trinity, a multipetaflop supercomputer that will run tests and simulations to ensure the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent without the use of underground testing. "If this system were delivered today, it would be the fastest in the world," notes Cray's Barry Bolding. Trinity is on track to be delivered by 2016, and will be located at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Linux-based Trinity system will feature newer processor, memory, and storage components than DOE's Titan supercomputer, also produced by Cray, which achieved a peak performance of 17.59 petaflops. Trinity will feature 82 petabytes of distributed storage and deliver throughput of 1.7 Tbps. Cray's newest Aries interconnect will help with Trinity's speed upgrade, linking server closets, processors, storage arrays, and other elements. Trinity also will be equipped with Intel's Xeon Phi processors, which can provide 3 teraflops of peak performance. The chipset will contain Micron's Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC) technology, which provides higher speed and power efficiency than DDR memory. HMC offers 15 times more bandwidth than DDR3 DRAM and consumes 70 percent less energy, with five times more bandwidth than DDR4 memory.
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