Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 20, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Supercomputing's Big Problem: What's After Silicon?
Computerworld (11/19/13) Patrick Thibodeau

Experts say that as Moore's Law reaches its limits, new technologies must be developed for supercomputers to continue to advance. Researchers say today's supercomputer development can be compared to the advent of complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology. The arrival of CMOS was disruptive, but it led to an expansive age of computing. The problem is "we don't have a technology that is ready to be adopted as a replacement for CMOS," says University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor William Gropp. Next-generation technologies could come from innovative materials "that are not anywhere near silicon, like the carbon nanotubes (CNTs)," says Argonne National Laboratory researcher Peter Beckman. Stanford University researchers are developing CNT-based digital circuits in an attempt to build the first computer using CNTs. The Stanford researchers say they emulated the MIPS instruction set, resulting in 10x benefit in a metric that considers performance and energy. The researchers synthesized their nanotubes by taking a quartz wafer, adding iron nanoparticles, and then heating it to 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit. "I'm really interested in things like emerging technologies because I want to know if CNTs are going to be able to save us in time," Gropp says.

Google’s Vint Cerf Defines Internet of Things Challenges
Network World (11/19/13) Michael Cooney

Speaking at the recent Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) workshop on the Internet of Things (IoT), Google chief Internet evangelist and ACM president Vint Cerf said the industry is going to have to live through a period of mistakes and challenges before making strong regulations about the privacy issues and other challenges the IoT presents. The FTC workshop examined the issues and challenges of everyday devices to communicate with each other and with users, and how the agency can regulate that activity. "Connected devices can communicate with consumers, transmit data back to companies, and compile data for third parties such as researchers, health care providers, or even other consumers, who can measure how their product usage compares with that of their neighbors," the FTC says. Cerf, the keynote speaker at the workshop, said seven key challenges face the IoT, including standardized interfaces; the configuration of massive amounts of devices; strong access control and authentication; privacy and safety; instrumentation and feedback; dealing with software errors, vulnerabilities, and software updates, and potential opportunities for third-party businesses. Cerf also noted that privacy issues were problematic, but he would not "simply assert privacy is dead."

Cybersecurity Training a Top Priority for Industry, Government
eWeek (11/19/13) Robert Lemos

Cybersecurity professionals are expected to be in high demand through 2020 and beyond, and private- and public-sector organizations are launching outreach programs to train workers. The International Information Security System Certification Consortium forecasts that the number of U.S. cybersecurity professionals will rise 11 percent annually through 2020, while the U.S. Department of Labor predicts double that level of growth. Cybersecurity education also plays a prominent role in the Obama administration's Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. Meanwhile, IBM this week broadened its Cyber Security Innovation Program, through which the company partners with universities to develop courses, offer tools to educators, and fund cybersecurity programs. "It is really about creating a new set of talent in future employees so they will understand security, no matter their background," says IBM's Marisa Viveros. Other cybersecurity initiatives include the U.S. National Security Agency's certification of schools as Cybersecurity Centers of Excellence, and the Cybersecurity Challenge, which offers training opportunities and cybersecurity competitions to raise interest in the field.

Improved Ranking Test for Supercomputers to Be Released by Sandia
Sandia National Laboratories (11/15/13) Neal Singer

Sandia National Laboratories is releasing a new benchmark that it says more accurately gauges the power of supercomputers for scientific and engineering applications. The benchmark, which will be formally released this week at the SC13 Conference in Denver, was created by Sandia researcher Mike Heroux, LINPACK benchmark creator Jack Dongarra, and researchers from the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Researchers are testing the new High Performance Conjugate Gradient (HPCG) program on several National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) supercomputers. NNSA is funding the work to obtain a better measure of the performance of more complicated scientific and engineering codes on emerging supercomputing architectures. The current LINPACK model is "not a good performance proxy for many complex modern applications," Heroux says. The algorithms and data structures used in the LINPACK benchmark were suited to supercomputing applications and problems when it was a newer field, but as applications and problems have grown more complicated, the gap between LINPACK performance and real application performance has increased significantly. "If we run HPCG on a simulator or new system and modify the code or computer design so that the code runs faster, we can make the same changes to make the real code run faster," Heroux says. "The beauty of the approach is that it really works."

ICANN Sets Up 'Coalition' to Address New Internet Governance Challenges
IDG News Service (11/18/13) John Ribeiro

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has created the "Panel on the Future of Global Internet Cooperation," consisting of government employees, civil society, the private sector, the technical community, and international organizations to address concerns about Internet governance. The panel is planning to release a report early next year on Internet governance, principles and proposed frameworks for global Internet cooperation, and a blueprint for future Internet governance challenges. ICANN may have formed the panel in response to increasing demands for restoring trust in the Internet after reports of surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency. The issue of control and regulation of the Internet divided last year's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), with some countries proposing greater control for countries in the running of the Internet. However, WCIT's final treaty did not refer to the management of the Internet, but instead included a non-binding proposal in the appendix stating that all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance. The panel's 19 members include Google chief Internet evangelist and ACM president Vint Cerf, who will serve as vice chairman, ICANN president Fadi Chehade, the Mozilla Foundation's Mitchell Baker, Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales, and Estonia president and panel chair Toomas Ilves.

New Hologram Technology Created with Tiny Nanoantennas
Purdue University News (11/15/13) Emil Venere

Purdue University researchers say they have developed tiny holograms using a metasurface capable of the ultra-efficient control of light. They say their breakthrough could lead to a new technology for advanced sensors, high-resolution displays, and information processing. The metasurface, which consists of thousands of V-shaped nanoantennas formed into an ultrathin gold foil, could make possible planar photonics devices and optical switches that can be integrated into computer chips for information processing, says Purdue professor Alexander Kildishev. The researchers demonstrated the technology by creating a hologram of the word "PURDUE" smaller than 100 microns wide. "If we can shape characters, we can shape different types of light beams for sensing or recording, or, for example, pixels for 3D displays," Kildishev says. Metasurfaces also could make it possible to use single photons for switching and routing in future computers. In addition, nanostructured materials are making it possible to reduce the wavelength of light, allowing the creation of new types of nanophotonic devices. "The most important thing is that we can do this with a very thin layer, only 30 nanometers, and this is unprecedented," says Purdue professor Vladimir M. Shalaev.

Every Step You Take
The Economist (11/16/2013)

As small cameras with the ability to identify individuals proliferate in public places and data storage prices drop, privacy issues are growing increasingly complicated. About 10,000 people already are using a Google Glass prototype, and in Russia at least 1 million cars are equipped with dashboard cameras aimed at tackling insurance fraud problems. U.S. police officers are beginning to wear video cameras on their uniforms to record interactions, and drones are being used to spy on individuals in their yards and other locations. Advances in camera technology have many positive uses, such as helping people with brain injuries to recover their memories and reading street signs and labels to those with vision impairments. However, complex privacy issues also are emerging, especially with the advent of facial-recognition technologies, which businesses and governments are beginning to use to find data about individuals by combing through billions of online images. With ubiquitous cameras and new algorithms, a person's movements in the near future could be constantly monitored and strangers could immediately identify a person on the street. New laws must carefully reflect a balance between public good and personal liberty.

The Brain's Crowdsourcing Software
The Wall Street Journal (11/15/13) Alison Gopnick

Neuroscientists are discovering the complex interactions of the human brain and how groups of cells cooperate to produce certain results, in a manner similar to crowdsourcing software. Columbia University's Stefano Fusi, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Earl K. Miller, and their colleagues this year released a study in which they taught monkeys to remember and respond to a particular shape rather than another while brain activity was recorded. The team recorded the activity of multiple prefrontal neurons simultaneously, instead of focusing on each neuron individually. Perplexing "mixed selectivity" patterns emerged, in which one neuron might respond when the monkey remembered just one shape or only when it recognized the shape but not when it recalled it, while a nearby cell displayed a different pattern. Borrowing concepts from computer scientists, the researchers discovered the monkey's brain relied on the same general technique that Google uses for its search algorithm. Instead of ranking search results by choosing a few features of each Web page, Google integrates the numerous, idiosyncratic choices of individual users to produce better results. If neurons focus on only limited features, the brain is restricted to capturing those features and combinations of features. The brain understands more complex patterns by integrating information from many different neurons with varying response patterns, in a method similar to crowdsourcing.
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Tech Leaders Warn IT Talent Shortage Could Curb Hiring Plans
CIO (11/14/13) Kenneth Corbin

Although technology companies would like to increase hiring this year, they are concerned that a shortage of skilled workers will limit their ability to do so, according to a Technology Councils of North America (TECNA) survey of more than 1,700 technology executives. Over the next 12 months, 63 percent of respondents plan to hire new employees, but 69 percent cited a "shortage in the quantity and quality" of candidates with technology skills. The survey results support the technology industry's claims of an IT talent shortage as they push for immigration reform and improvements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. TECNA executive director Bob Moore says his trade group supports comprehensive immigration reform, "in particular the high-skilled aspects that increase H-1B visas for STEM workers." However, Congressional immigration reform efforts appear stalled. Although the Senate passed a comprehensive bill, House speaker John Boehner recently said that he would not consider the legislation. Visa reform is supported by several trade groups and technology companies, but TECNA's survey found that many IT executives feel their interests aren't adequately represented by the actions of the federal government.

UC Research Brings a Future of Mind-Reading Robots Ever Closer
UC Magazine (11/14/13) Tom Robinette

University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers are studying how brain-computer interfaces can be applied to robotics. The researchers' brain-computer interface (BCI) technology uses electroencephalography to help distinguish which brain signal corresponds with the body's performance of a particular intended action. In their experiments, the researchers specifically targeted brain impulses generated when a person thought about going from a sitting position to standing and vice versa. The goal is to enable a person to use thought alone to communicate with a computer about the intent to move. "We are experimenting with processing the signal and selecting useful features from it, and designing a classifier capable of distinguishing between the these two transitions--sitting to standing and standing to sitting," says UC professor Anca Ralescu. She notes the research eventually could be used in conjunction with a spring-assisted leg exoskeleton that can help people with impaired mobility, which also is being developed at the university. By integrating the BCI into the exoskeleton, users could think about standing and then receive a robotic boost as they rose to their feet.

Quantum Memory 'World Record' Smashed
BBC News (11/14/13) James Morgan

An international team of researchers has held a fragile quantum memory state stable at room temperature for a record-breaking 39 minutes, in a breakthrough that brings quantum computing closer to real-world use. Led by Simon Fraser University's Mike Thewalt, the team maintained qubits of information encoded in a silicon system nearly 100 times longer than in the past. The unofficial previous record for a solid-state system was 25 seconds at room temperature, or three minutes under cryogenic conditions. "This opens the possibility of truly long-term storage of quantum information at room temperature," Thewalt says. The team encoded information into the nuclei of phosphorus atoms held in a sliver of purified silicon, and used magnetic field pulses to tilt the spin of the nuclei to form the qubits of memory. After creating the sample at close to absolute zero, the team increased the system to room temperature and the superposition states lasted for 39 minutes. In addition, the team was able to manipulate the qubits as the system's temperature climbed and fell back toward absolute zero. "Having such robust, as well as long-lived, qubits could prove very helpful for anyone trying to build a quantum computer," says Oxford University's Stephanie Simmons.

NASA Experts Showcase Science, Technology at Supercomputing Conference
NASA News (11/13/13) Jill Dunbar; Jarrett Cohen

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is showcasing more than 30 of the agency's new computational achievements at this week's SC13 Conference in Denver. "NASA's supercomputing technologies and expertise are key to the success of many missions," says NASA's Rupak Biswas. "This includes expanding our knowledge of the ocean's role in climate change and the global carbon cycle, understanding how space weather affects technological systems on Earth, and improving the design of aircraft components to reduce the level of noise we are exposed to every day." Each day at SC13, Biswas is presenting a talk on NASA research to determine the potential for quantum computing to solve difficult problems. NASA will rely on its two supercomputers, Pleiades and Discover, for the majority of these research projects. For example, the SC13 exhibit hyperwall shows NASA-produced visualizations of possible 21st century temperature and precipitation pattern changes estimated by dozens of climate models.

Dart, Google's Controversial Web Language, Turns 1.0
CNet (11/14/13) Stephen Shankland

Google recently announced the availability of version 1.0 of Web programming language Dart, which aims to provide better programmer efficiency and Web software performance than JavaScript. Dart is now ready for actual websites, not just for testing, says Dart project leader Lars Bak. Although programmers cannot use Dart directly on the Web, Google provides indirect mechanisms that could make it useful while Google tries to convince skeptical browser makers of Dart's merit. JavaScript is well understood and has the advantage of numerous existing software libraries and a record of steady performance gains. Dart's creators, on the other hand, must educate programmers, develop libraries, and employ browser programmers to improve performance and address security problems. Furthermore, the addition of a new software foundation to the Web significantly raises complexity, because support for JavaScript cannot be eliminated even if Dart gains momentum. However, over the past two years Google has improved Dart's software developer kit and says Dart can significantly boost performance. Google also believes programmers will like Dart, even if they need to convert Dart software into JavaScript to put it online. Google says Dart is 42-percent to 130-percent faster than JavaScript on Google's three benchmarks, and Dart2JS versions outperform JavaScript counterparts on two of the three tests.

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