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Computing Now Exclusive Content — March 2010

News Archive

July 2012

Gig.U Project Aims for an Ultrafast US Internet

June 2012

Bringing Location and Navigation Technology Indoors

May 2012

Plans Under Way for Roaming between Cellular and Wi-Fi Networks

Encryption System Flaw Threatens Internet Security

April 2012

For Business Intelligence, the Trend Is Location, Location, Location

Corpus Linguistics Keep Up-to-Date with Language

March 2012

Are Tomorrow's Firewalls Finally Here Today?

February 2012

Spatial Humanities Brings History to Life

December 2011

Could Hackers Take Your Car for a Ride?

November 2011

What to Do about Supercookies?

October 2011

Lights, Camera, Virtual Moviemaking

September 2011

Revolutionizing Wall Street with News Analytics

August 2011

Growing Network-Encryption Use Puts Systems at Risk

New Project Could Promote Semantic Web

July 2011

FBI Employs New Botnet Eradication Tactics

Google and Twitter "Like" Social Indexing

June 2011

Computing Commodities Market in the Cloud

May 2011

Intel Chips Step up to 3D

Apple Programming Error Raises Privacy Concerns

Thunderbolt Promises Lightning Speed

April 2011

Industrial Control Systems Face More Security Challenges

Microsoft Effort Takes Down Massive Botnet

March 2011

IP Addresses Getting Security Upgrade

February 2011

Studios Agree on DRM Infrastructure

January 2011

New Web Protocol Promises to Reduce Browser Latency

To Be or NAT to Be?

December 2010

Intel Gets inside the Helmet

Tuning Body-to-Body Networks with RF Modeling

November 2010

New Wi-Fi Spec Simplifies Connectivity

Expanded Top-Level Domains Could Spur Internet Real Estate Boom

October 2010

New Weapon in War on Botnets

September 2010

Content-Centered Internet Architecture Gets a Boost

Gesturing Going Mainstream

August 2010

Is Context-Aware Computing Ready for the Limelight?

Flexible Routing in the Cloud

Signal Congestion Rejuvenates Interest in Cell Paging-Channel Protocol

July 2010

New Protocol Improves Interaction among Networked Devices and Applications

Security for Domain Name System Takes a Big Step Forward

The ROADM to Smarter Optical Networking

Distributed Cache Goes Mainstream

June 2010

New Application Protects Mobile-Phone Passwords

WiGig Alliance Reveals Ultrafast Wireless Specification

Cognitive Radio Adds Intelligence to Wireless Technology

May 2010

New Product Uses Light Connections in Blade Server

April 2010

Browser Fingerprints Threaten Privacy

New Animation Technique Uses Motion Frequencies to Shake Trees

March 2010

Researchers Take Promising Approach to Chemical Computing

Screen-Capture Programming: What You See is What You Script

Research Project Sends Data Wirelessly at High Speeds via Light

February 2010

Faster Testing for Complex Software Systems

IEEE 802.1Qbg/h to Simplify Data Center Virtual LAN Management

Distributed Data-Analysis Approach Gains Popularity

Twitter Tweak Helps Haiti Relief Effort

January 2010

2010 Rings in Some Y2K-like Problems

Infrastructure Sensors Improve Home Monitoring

Internet Search Takes a Semantic Turn

December 2009

Phase-Change Memory Technology Moves toward Mass Production

IBM Crowdsources Translation Software

Digital Ants Promise New Security Paradigm

November 2009

Program Uses Mobile Technology to Help with Crises

More Cores Keep Power Down

White-Space Networking Goes Live

Mobile Web 2.0 Experiences Growing Pains

October 2009

More Spectrum Sought for Body Sensor Networks

Optics for Universal I/O and Speed

High-Performance Computing Adds Virtualization to the Mix

ICANN Accountability Goes Multinational

RFID Tags Chat Their Way to Energy Efficiency

September 2009

Delay-Tolerant Networks in Your Pocket

Flash Cookies Stir Privacy Concerns

Addressing the Challenge of Cloud-Computing Interoperability

Ephemeralizing the Web

August 2009

Bluetooth Speeds Up

Grids Get Closer

DCN Gets Ready for Production

The Sims Meet Science

Sexy Space Threat Comes to Mobile Phones

July 2009

WiGig Alliance Makes Push for HD Specification

New Dilemnas, Same Principles:
Changing Landscape Requires IT Ethics to Go Mainstream

Synthetic DNS Stirs Controversy:
Why Breaking Is a Good Thing

New Approach Fights Microchip Piracy

Technique Makes Strong Encryption Easier to Use

New Adobe Flash Streams Internet Directly to TVs

June 2009

Aging Satellites Spark GPS Concerns

The Changing World of Outsourcing

North American CS Enrollment Rises for First Time in Seven Years

Materials Breakthrough Could Eliminate Bootups

April 2009

Trusted Computing Shapes Self-Encrypting Drives

March 2009

Google, Publishers to Try New Advertising Methods

Siftables Offer New Interaction Model for Serious Games

Hulu Boxed In by Media Conglomerates

February 2009

Chips on Verge of Reaching 32 nm Nodes

Hathaway to Lead Cybersecurity Review

A Match Made in Heaven: Gaming Enters the Cloud

January 2009

Government Support Could Spell Big Year for Open Source

25 Reasons For Better Programming

Web Guide Turns Playstation 3 Consoles into Supercomputing Cluster

Flagbearers for Technology: Contemporary Techniques Showcase US Artifact and European Treasures

December 2008

.Tel TLD Debuts As New Way to Network

Science Exchange

November 2008

The Future is Reconfigurable

Researchers Take Promising Approach to Chemical Computing

by George Lawton

A multinational European project has begun work on a biologically inspired, "wet" computer designed to mimic living brain functions through chemical assembly processes and pharmaceutical manufacturing techniques. The Neuneu project, for which the EU's Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Proactive Initiative will provide 1.8 million euros, will exploit several properties of chemical systems for their computing power.

"This is the first step towards real-life construction of an artificial chemical brain with well-defined architecture of connections between artificial neurons," said professor Andy Adamatzky at the University of the West of England (UWE). "It will be a massive parallel computer made of lipid bubbles."

The research will focus on building small networks and simulating large-scale networks of chemical microprocessors that oscillate using Belousov–Zhabotinskii (BZ) reactions. BZ bubbles are seen as a rough physical imitation of neurons. Both can be excited and go into a refractory state, and both support excitation waves traveling between elements.

Although the lipid-computing technique is an important step, it's only a rough approximation to a brain. In a 2D plane, each lipid sphere can connect with five to seven neighbors, and the connections are only local. This pales in comparison with the 8,000 connections arriving at one neuron.

The project has three objectives. The first is to engineer lipid-coated water droplets, which contain the chemical medium. The droplets can be interconnected so that waves of excitation can flow between them. The second is to develop information processing architectures based on the physical and chemical properties demonstrated by the droplets. Third is to explore the limitations of these architectures.

The University of Southampton will refine the process of droplet construction. The Polish Academy of Science will model the oscillations of the BZ reactions from various chemical compounds. The UWE will develop simulations for modeling large networks of interconnected droplets. The University of Jena will translate the properties demonstrated in a lab to these large-scale models.

How It Works

The project makes use of stable cells, which are chemical bubbles coated in a fat-based membrane that forms spontaneously and uses chemistry to accomplish signal processing.

A biological cell has a bilevel membrane constructed from an array of lipid-molecule matched pairs that are sandwiched together, separating a watery medium inside and outside the cell. Each matched pair consists of a hydrophilic head that's attracted to water and a hydrophobic tail that’s repelled by water. The hydrophobic molecules bond together and chemically attract other pairs to surround the cell.

Neuneu will employ a variation of this type of cell. A monolevel membrane surrounds each lipid droplet; it has water on the inside but only oil outside. A bilevel membrane is formed at the contact point where two of these bubbles are pushed together. The University of Southampton researchers are proposing a molecule of alpha–hemolysin to rip a tunnel between the two droplets, thus forming a channel between them.

Exciting the chemicals inside the droplets expends their chemical energy, causing them to enter a refractory period, during which they must recharge. An external excitation can then trigger another chemical reaction, much like a broken clock that ticks only when it's jostled, then goes dormant until it's can excited again.

The project will find ways to physically get the drops to touch and create connection points where they come together. In theory, researchers could explore different chemical mixtures for the droplets and different ways of making the channels. However, in the three-year project time frame, they will focus on proving the technology.

The theoretical research will address modeling the kinds of computing units the technology could support. Klaus-Peter Zauner, senior lecturer at the University of Southampton explained, "We want to find out if this is a technology that has real use or if it is too constrained."

It's difficult to make lab systems large enough to delineate these limitations, so the researchers will use simulation studies. Zauner noted, "We want to learn from small droplet networks with tens of droplets and extrapolate this to systems with 10,000 droplets. It's not far beyond the scope of current technology, but it would be expensive to do in the lab."

The lab research at this stage will refine the process for producing consistent quality droplets. The medical industry has developed the mass production of lipid-coated droplets as a technique for drug delivery.

BZ Computation

BZ computation is a form of chemical computing used in molecular-computation research. It's relatively easy to prepare, said Oliver Steinbock, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Florida State University. In the simplest case, four chemicals (bromate, malonic acid, sulfuric acid, and a redox-catalyst) are mixed in water at room temperature. If stirred, the reaction solution can undergo long-lasting and striking color changes (say, red to blue) with typical oscillation periods of seconds to minutes.

External perturbations, such as submerging a wire in the solution, can trigger a long-lasting color-change cycle. This behavior is similar to the excitability waves that travel through neurons. The waves are like a domino-chain reaction, except the dominos can reset themselves after the refractory period. "The similarity between neurons and BZ systems has stimulated most of the chemical BZ computing ideas," said Steinbock.

It's likely to be some time before this type of research has practical application. "Don't sell your PC yet," Steinbock advised. "This is exploratory research that will not yield short-term applications although some highly specialized applications might be achievable. Nonetheless, the human brain is a convincing example that excitable networks can do remarkable things."

The Molecular Computing Landscape

Zauner said the molecular computing landscape can be broken into three-broad areas: bulk-molecular materials, single molecules, and biomolecular computing.

Bulk-molecular materials, such as organic semiconductors, use soft-matter physics. The atoms are packed less densely and the structure is far less homogeneous than in solid-state semiconductors. Computation devices based on these materials uses technologies such as organic light emitting diodes. They can be more flexible and made at lower temperatures.

Single-molecule electronics uses novel construction techniques to build molecular wires, single-molecule diodes, and similar structures for smaller-scale devices. Both bulk- and single-molecule devices imitate conventional circuits with molecules.

Biomolecular computing uses the molecules in material-specific architectures. It's the basis of cellular computation today. Researchers expect biomolecular arrays to enable architectures that are completely different from traditional logic circuits and will require entirely new programming techniques.

Neuneu is exploring this third type of molecular computing, which researchers have been exploring for some time. In the 1980s, researchers at the Biophysical Institute at Pushchino in Russia developed optical computers that leveraged biological components to store optical holographic information.

In 1989, Lothar Kuhnert reported processing images by using the BZ reaction with light-sensitive chemical waves. In the 1990s, Steinbock and his associates used BZ reactions to calculate the shortest paths in a labyrinth in a highly parallel fashion. They subsequently calculated Voronoi diagrams using BZ chemistry.

Zauner said the only commercial application of biomolecular computing so far is the FringeMaker-Plus, made by Munich Innovative Biomaterials. It uses the protein bacteriorhodopsin to create reusable media that store holographic image data for nondestructive testing.

The EU FET-Proactive Initiative is funding two other projects for molecular computing. The Bactocom project will use bacteria for computing. The Matchit project is building an infrastructure that uses DNA addressing to move chemicals. "There's a lot of work going on," Zauner noted, "and no one knows which techniques will ultimately work."

Making It Practical

Neuneu might bring chemical computing from the concept stage to a practical demonstration. "There has been too much work on theory that was not tied closely to reality," Zauner said, "so we were clear on tying the research to what can be demonstrated in the lab."

The team has focused on techniques that have a reasonable chance of working well. For example, other researchers have made lipid-coated water droplets, but not for computational purposes, and BZ computation techniques are well developed.

The project aims to show how a new paradigm for building computers could be practical. Zauner sees traditional computer science locked into a somewhat narrow focus on certain forms of logical structures. "It's almost as if you were to make a hot air balloon out of better and better materials, but never considered the possibility of an airplane," Zauner said. "When we look at nature, it's perfectly clear there are better computational techniques for many types of applications."

Molecular techniques might be good for putting computers inside living cells — for example, to improve drug delivery so that robots could selectively detect and kill cancers. In the long term, Zauner expects that these kinds of computer will let us selectively create new molecules. "The big impact will be when molecular computing is used to make molecular materials that we cannot make today," he said. "It will be more extreme than the impact of organic chemistry."

Read more about Neuneu at: http://neu-n.eu. To see some movies on BZ in action, go to www.youtube.com/user/SteinbockGroup.

George Lawton is a freelance journalist based in Guerneville, CA. Contact him at glawton.com.