Welcome to the January 23, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. Tech Firms Add Jobs Despite Automation
Computerworld (01/23/12) Patrick Thibodeau
Even as U.S. companies increase their investments in automation, the information technology (IT) industry continues to hire workers, according to recent Forrester Research and U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) studies. Employment in software and IT services is on the rise as more of the economy moves online. Meanwhile, the value of the output generated by manufacturing employees in the last decade has doubled, which means that it now takes far fewer people than it did 10 years ago to produce a product, according to NSF. Manufacturing in the U.S. is increasingly becoming the assembly of components that are brought in from overseas; it is also increasingly automated, says Forrester's Andrew Bartels. The U.S. tech industry employed 3.2 million workers at the end of 2011, a net gain of 42,000 over 2010 despite job losses in the telecommunications sector, according the Forrester report. However, Forrester notes that the U.S. tech sector added 131,000 jobs in 2011 in services and software development, which represents six percent of the total new private-sector jobs created since 2010's first quarter. Forrester predicts a continued rise in software and services employment in 2012, and sees tech purchases rising about six percent.
A Big Leap Toward Lowering the Power Consumption of Microprocessors
University of Texas at Austin (01/20/12) Daniel Oppenheimer
University of Texas at Austin researchers have developed systematic power profiles of microprocessors, which they say could help lower the energy consumption of both small cell phones and giant data centers. The researchers say the results could help companies such as Google, Apple, Intel, and Microsoft make software and hardware that will lower the energy costs of very small and very large devices. "The less power cell phones draw, the longer the battery will last," says University of Texas at Austin professor Kathryn McKinley. "If the application writer could analyze the power profile, they would be motivated to write an algorithm that pings it half as often to save energy without compromising functionality." She says the future of software and hardware design involves power profiles becoming a consideration at every stage of the process. "In the past, we optimized only for performance," McKinley says. "If you were picking between two software algorithms, or chips, or devices, you picked the faster one." She notes that there are still applications in which speed remains the primary consideration. However, she says "there are a lot of other areas where you really want to consider the power usage."
SOPA, PIPA Stalled: Meet the OPEN Act
PC World (01/22/12) Christina DesMarais
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) recently introduced the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, which he says provides stronger intellectual property (IP) rights for U.S. artists and innovators while protecting the openness of the Internet. The OPEN Act would give oversight to the International Trade Commission (ITC), focusing on foreign-based Web sites. "If the ITC investigation finds that a foreign registered Web site is ‘primarily’ and ‘willfully’ infringing on the IP rights of a U.S. rights holder, the commission would issue a cease and desist order that would compel payment processors (like Visa and PayPal) and online advertising providers to cease doing business with the foreign site in question," according to Issa's Web site. Technology companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have voiced their support for the OPEN Act, in contrast to their opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protection Intellectual Property Act, which were recently put on hold after a vast online protest. However, the Motion Picture Association of America says the bill goes too easy on Internet piracy. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has introduced the OPEN Act in the U.S. Senate.
Gaming Technology for Calculating Floods
Research Council of Norway (01/19/12) Norunn K. Torheim; Thomas Keilman
SINTEF ICT researchers have developed simulation technology that could save lives and reduce the damage from floods. The simulation technology uses graphics cards that can process more calculations simultaneously, enabling the system to extract much higher capacity from each computer, says SINTEF ICT's Jens Olav Nygaard. The researchers developed software that accelerates the simulation of shallow-water waves several hundredfold. "If a dam breaks and we enter this into the simulation program, we can calculate how the water will flow, including water levels, faster than it occurs in reality, [and] based on the simulation we can determine which areas may need to be evacuated," Nygaard says. The system also can be used for flood-prone areas where other conditions such as landslides can cause flooding. "We still need powerful computers, but with our technology the simulation process goes much faster than before," Nygaard says.
China's Dark Horse Supercomputing Chip: FeiTeng
HPC Wire (01/19/12) Michael Feldman
Chinese researchers at the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) are developing the FeiTeng processor, an architecture that could launch Chinese supercomputing past the exascale barrier. FeiTeng was specifically designed for high-performance computing (HPC) and its original version delivered a peak performance of 16 gigaflops, consuming just 8.6 watts of power, which would yield an energy efficiency of about 1.8 gigaflops per watt. The NUDT researchers also developed a programming language called SF95, which extended FORTRAN95 with 10 compiler directives to utilize the architecture. China wants to develop and use domestic microprocessors for its HPC industry, and it is likely that the FeiTeng processors will replace both Intel and NVIDIA chips in a future NUDT supercomputer. China's currently most powerful machine, Tianhe-1A, is powered by Intel Xeon and NVIDIA Tesla chips.
10 Government Ideas to Spur Innovation
InformationWeek (01/19/12) Rob Preston
A new U.S. Department of Commerce report argues for rigorous federal government investment in the country's innovative capacity to spark economic growth and nurture the creation of high-paying, sustainable jobs. Among the policy proposals presented by the report are support for continued, stable basic research funding, and the augmentation and extension of the research and development tax credit to create incentives for long-term private-sector investment. The report also recommends accelerating the commercialization of ideas, although this practice must be tempered with caution so that the government does not try to select commercial winners by determining which specific concepts qualify for funding. In addition, the report urges greater investment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The Obama administration suggests financing more grants and structuring more public-private alliances to offer STEM education to more disadvantaged and underrepresented students, as well as raising funding for STEM teacher training. The broadest and most vague of the report's recommendations involves guaranteeing the existence of conditions that enable private enterprise to flourish. The report also calls for reform of the intellectual property system in order that it continue "to function in a way that encourages growth."
UN Sets Stage for Blazing Fast Mobile Devices
Associated Press (01/19/12) John Heilprin
The United Nations has approved new standards for the IMT-advanced system, which should make the next generation of mobile technology 500 times faster than 3G smartphones. International Mobile Telecommunications, also known as the current 3G mobile technology, has been widely used since 2000. The IMT-advanced system will use the radio frequency spectrum more efficiently, and devices will need less bandwidth to access the Internet, stream videos, and transfer data. Some observers call the new standards true 4G, or the fourth generation of mobile wireless standards. "This means absolutely no time to get a page open," says the International Telecommunication Union's Francois Rancy. Devices will be able to obtain data fast enough to download most TV shows in about 20 seconds and CDs in about a minute. "This is what people are really asking for now," Rancy notes. The technology will likely show up in smartphones, tablets, and other devices in two years.
Pentagon-Funded Games Would Crowdsource Weapons Testing
NextGov.com (01/19/12) Dawn Lim
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing Crowdsourced Formal Verification, a set of computer games designed to refine the way weapons systems are tested to ensure they are free from software errors and security bugs. DARPA says the goal is to create puzzles that are "intuitively understandable by ordinary people" and could be solved on laptops, smartphones, tablets, and consoles. The agency says the games' solutions will be collected into a database and used to improve methods for analyzing software. Crowdsourcing formal verification would help the Pentagon cut costs while it deals with a shortage of computer security specialists. "This is particularly an issue for the Department of Defense because formal verification, while a proven method for reducing defects in software, currently requires highly specialized talent and cannot be scaled to the size of software found in modern weapon systems," DARPA says. However, some security professionals are unsure if the program can meet its ambitious goals. It would be more cost-effective for the government to focus efforts on ensuring that software is secure while it is being engineered instead of after it has been deployed in systems, says Cigital's Gary McGraw.
Quantum Mechanics Enables Perfectly Secure Cloud Computing
University of Vienna (01/19/12)
University of Vienna researchers say that secure cloud computing can be achieved using the principles of quantum mechanics and quantum computing. The researchers envision a future in which quantum computing capabilities only exist in a few specialized facilities around the world, and users would then interact with those facilities to outsource their quantum computations. However, the researchers say that global cloud computing needs to become safer to ensure that users' data remains private. Quantum computing "can preserve data privacy when users interact with remote computing centers," says Vienna researcher Stefanie Barz. She says that quantum computing enables the delegation of a quantum computation from a user who does not hold any quantum computational power to a quantum server, while guaranteeing that the user's data remains private, a process known as blind quantum computing. Blind quantum computing involves the user preparing multiple qubits in a secret state and sending those qubits to the quantum computer, which entangles the qubits according to a standard scheme. The user tailors measurement instructions to the specific state of each qubit and sends them to the quantum server. The results of the computation are then sent back to the user who can interpret and use the results of the computation.
NYC Opens First High School for Software Engineering
Government Computer News (01/19/12) Kathleen Hickey
New York City will create its first public high school dedicated to training students in software development. The Academy for Software Engineering will open in September, offering a full academic program designed to prepare students for college, but the non-vocational school will be available to any student who is interested in computer science. The school is the brainchild of Mike Zamansky, a teacher at Stuyvesant High School, and it will be financially backed by venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who plans to attract other investors and industry support. The school has the potential to train many software engineers who are not at the top of their class academically, says board member Joel Spolsky. When all four grades are enrolled in 2015, the school could have between 420 and 460 students, notes Frank Thomas with the city's Department of Education. The U.S.'s high schools are "not producing even remotely enough programmers to meet the hiring needs of the technology industry," Spolsky says. "I predict that [the school] will be overwhelmed with applicants and this will be the most popular new school in New York City in years."
Must-Have Robots Come Nearer With Software Explosion
New Scientist (01/19/12) Celeste Biever
Several new robotics designs were shown at the recent Homebrew Robotics Club meeting at Willow Garage. GRASP lab researchers demonstrated software that enables Willow Garage's PR2 robot to identify and read signs, as well as predict the movement of people and navigate around them. Georgia Institute of Technology researchers used a PR2 robot to help a quadriplegic man move objects around his house and control a computer mouse. Willow Garage’s ROS robot operating system manages the PR2 robot's hardware and provides an interface between it and new software. Since ROS is open source, the navigation continues to improve as researchers add their modifications to the central software bank. Meanwhile, Ologic's Ted Larson developed Phonedox, a smartphone robot that runs on Google's Android operating system. "We think cell phones are going to be the new way to make the next hot robot," Larson says. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed DragonBot, an inanimate stuffed dragon that turns into a robot when a cell phone is inserted. DragonBot is constantly connected to the Internet via the cell phone connection, and its memories and personality can be stored in the cloud. The cloud also enables the robots to communicate with each other, making each individual more intelligent.
Next Battle Over Net Ramps Up Worldwide
Politico (01/18/12) Eliza Krigman
Countries that are part of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are in the process of negotiating a treaty that could affect the governance of the Internet. Between now and December, ITU member nations will negotiate the terms of a new set of rules known as International Telecommunication Regulations, which will replace a 1988 treaty that established basic parameters for the interconnection of international phone networks. Some proposals that are under consideration by ITU member nations could possibly give governments more control over Web content and the conduits that are used to carry it to end users. The new rules could help countries try to recoup some of the revenues they lost as a result of the decline of international calls. One way that could happen is by having the ITU play a bigger role in regulating peering and termination charges. In addition, some developing countries may want to charge Web sites such as Google or Facebook on a per-click basis to generate more revenue for their state-owned phone companies. Critics of the proposals say they would increase the likelihood of Internet censorship, while supporters say the rules would move the Internet away from U.S. control and toward international control.
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