Teperdexrian

The Interesting, The Strange, The News.

Posts Tagged ‘computers

IBM thinks about the next 100 years

leave a comment »

 

A hundred years from now, will we be assimilated by the machines? Or will we assimilate them? These are the kinds of issues facing International Business Machines as the company begins its second 100 years.

Right now, most folks are thinking about the past 100 years at IBM, which is celebrating the centennial of its founding on Thursday. But for Bernard Meyerson, the company’s vice president of innovation, it’s all about the next century.

“That’s pretty much what we think about,” Meyerson told me today.

Meyerson has plenty to look back on, including his own not-so-small part in IBM’s past innovations. When his cell phone dropped the connection during our telephone conversation, he called back and casually mentioned that he had a hand in creating the transistors built into that cell phone. And when I asked him to explain, he said, “I actually invented the technology known as silicon-germanium.”

It turns out that IBM has played a behind-the-scenes role in all sorts of technologies, ranging from semiconductor development to barcodes to Wi-Fi. “IBM is a funny company,” Meyerson said. “We don’t force you to put a little sticker on anything that says, ‘We’re the smart guys.'”

But enough about the past: What about the future? “Going forward, you have tremendous opportunities,” particularly when it comes to making sense of the huge databases that are being built up in all sorts of fields, Meyerson said. For example, imagine a system that can take medical records from the 285 million people around the world with diabetes, anonymize those records and analyze them, looking for potential new treatments or preventive measures.

“The fact is, there is no mechanism today that could do that, and the reason is that medical data is unstructured,” he said. There’s little consistency in how the records are kept, and medical conditions might be described in different ways by different doctors.

When you put together the volumes of data and the numbers of people that have to be covered in these massive, unstructured data sets, the figures mount up to quintillions of bytes. That’s the challenge facing new types of computing tools — for example, the Watson supercomputer, which won a highly publicized “Jeopardy” quiz-show match earlier this year. Now Watson is being put to work on a tougher task: making sense of medical records, which is just the kind of job Meyerson has in mind.

Still other challenges await. Watson-style computers could digest the millions of data points involved in tracking the flow of highway traffic, then develop models to predict where the tie-ups could arise before they actually happen. The computers of the next century will have to handle a wide range of “big data” challenges, ranging from climate modeling to natural-language search engines for multimedia.

Meyerson doesn’t expect Watson to answer that challenge completely. A hundred years from now, Watson will almost certainly be considered a quaint antique, much like the tabulating machines that were made back in 1911.

“Watson specifically is not the issue, as much as the combination of Watson’s ability to interpret natural language, the capacity to store ‘big data’ and apply data analytics to come up with solutions for society,” he said. “In the absence of natural language, you’re going to have a short, unhappy life attempting this work. Without that key ingredient, how are you going to take the interaction of humans and machines to the next level and make it easy?”

What will the next level be in the year 2111? “Honestly, at 100 years I’m genuinely unsure,” Meyerson said. The past century has shown that the pace of technological advancement can be highly variable, depending on what kinds of breakthroughs come to the fore. But if Meyerson had to bet on one particular game-changing technology, it would be coming up with a direct interface between computing circuits and the human brain.

“If it turns out that there is a very natural way to communicate data back and forth without being obtrusive, then the whole world changes,” he told me. This wouldn’t be a Borg-like assimilation, in which humans look increasingly like machines. Rather, the machines would blend into the human body.

Does that sound like a grand dream for the next century? Or a nightmare? Feel free to chime in with your comments below.

 

 

Via MSNBC

Advertisements

China hacks Gmail accounts of senior U.S. officials one day after Obama’s cyber warning

leave a comment »

  • Google said U.S. government officials targeted
  • Security breach larger than previous Gmail attacks
  • Pentagon warn U.S. may retaliate with military force
  • Hackers also target military contractor that supplies unmanned aerial vehicles
  • Beijing denies being behind attack

Fears China is plotting a devastating ‘cyber war’ against the West were heightened yesterday when it emerged Chinese hackers have stolen hundreds of passwords belonging to senior U.S. government officials.

The security breach was revealed by Google which said victims had been carefully targeted in a scam traced to the city of Jinan in the Communist state’ s Shangdong province.

Experts suspect Chinese hackers are capable of reducing the U.S. or its allies including Britain to stone-age conditions at the press of a button – by crippling the computers running everything from banks and supermarkets to power stations and water plants.

 

Hacked: Google admitted that hundreds of Gmail accounts had been targeted by hackers in China, including those of senior U.S. officials

Hacked: Google admitted that hundreds of Gmail accounts had been targeted by hackers in China, including those of senior U.S. officials.

In a chilling echo of the Cold War, a ‘cyber arms race’ is rapidly developing between East and West, with the U.S. even threatening to retaliate with military weapons to any ‘act of war’ attack on its computers from a foreign power.

Earlier this week the US said it would react militarily to future cyber incursions from other countries.

One U.S. military official quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying: ‘If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.’

British defence minister Nick Harvey underlined the growing sense of panic by declaring that ‘action in cyberspace will form part of the future battlefield’.

Row: Google said the phishing scam had originated in China

Row: Google said the phishing scam had originated in China.

Sir Michael Rake, chairman of BT Group and a figurehead for cyber security issues in industry, warned world powers were being drawn into a hi-tech arms race in which countries could wage war without firing a single shot.

Sir Michael said: ‘I don’t think personally it’s an exaggeration to say you can bring a state to its knees without any military action whatsoever.’

Although there is no direct evidence that the Chinese hackers in the latest case are in the pay of the Chinese government, their attacks were so sophisticated and highly-targeted that few experts doubt they were state-sponsored.

Apart from anything else, unlike other internet scams, there was no obvious financial gain behind them, suggesting a sinister rather than a financial motive.

Senior U.S. and South Korean government officials who fell victim to the scam were tricked into giving away their Google and Yahoo email login details.

Threat: The Pentagon said it is ready to retaliate against cyber attacks

Threat: The Pentagon said it is ready to retaliate against cyber attacks.

Defence: The Pentagon will reclassify cyber attacks as an aggressive act if it causes the equivalent loss of life or damage to infrastructure as a conventional military attack

Defence: The Pentagon will reclassify cyber attacks as an aggressive act if it causes the equivalent loss of life or damage to infrastructure as a conventional military attack.

They had received ‘Trojan horse’ emails that purported to be from someone they knew, but were in fact carefully-crafted fakes.

One example email had the title: ‘Fw: Draft US-China Joint Statement’, and contained the text: ‘This is the latest version of State’s joint statement.’

Enticed into opening the email, the unsuspecting user was directed to a convincing but bogus Google or Yahoo email page where they were invited to type in their login and password. When they did so, their supposedly-secret details immediately fell into the hands of the Chinese hackers.

Armed with the passwords, the hackers could access the user’s real email account and spy on genuine emails being sent between government officials.

Although the scam – which went on for months before being uncovered – targeted personal email accounts, rather than government accounts, officials could have forwarded their work emails to their personal Gmail accounts.

Sensitive: The Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter, just one of many weapons manufactured by the company and used by both the U.S. and the UK armed forces

Sensitive: The Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter, just one of many weapons manufactured by the company and used by both the U.S. and the UK armed forces.

A Google spokesman said yesterday: ‘Google detected and has disrupted this campaign to take users’ passwords and monitor their emails. We have notified victims and secured their accounts.’

The White House said it was investigating. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the allegations were ‘very serious’ and would be investigated by the FBI.

Online threat: Hackers have breached Lockheed security (file photo)Beijing has repeatedly denied hacking into foreign countries’ systems.

Britian has found itself under attack also.

Last month, Chancellor George Osborne revealed that foreign intelligence agencies were trying to break into the Treasury computer system to steal information or spread viruses at the rate of more than one attack a day.

MI5 and the FBI have warned British and American companies of the mushrooming threat from Chinese government-backed hackers trying to pilfer commercial secrets.

Whitehall has announced an extra £500million to be spent on bolstering cyber security, amid concerns that Britain’s computer networks linking banking, power and water systems are too vulnerable to digital sabotage.

But America is not always the victim in cyber attacks. The U.S. and Israel were blamed for the development of the Stuxnet virus, a computer worm that targets industrial software and was credited with sabotage attacks on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Delegates at an international cyber security conference held in London this week warned the crisis was so severe that nations should agree an international ‘non-proliferation’ treaty similar to the one drawn up to slow the spread of nuclear weapons.

 

Via DailyMail

Supercomputer diagnoses & treats diseases

leave a comment »

IBM’s Watson computer system, best known for defeating the world’s best Jeopardy! players, is now delivering rapid-fire answers to questions about diseases and medicines.

The company says it could be suggesting diagnoses and treatments to doctors right at a patient’s bedside in the next couple of years.

A recent demonstration showed how Watson’s diagnoses evolved as the computer was given more information about a patient, including where the patient lived.

A career in medicine: 'Watson', IBM's supercomputer, is not devouring information from medical history and text books in a bid to know everything

A career in medicine: ‘Watson’, IBM’s supercomputer, is not devouring information from medical history and text books in a bid to know everything

Beaten: Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek with contestants Ken Jennings, Watson's 'avatar' and Brad Rutter - before Watson went on to wipe the floor with them

Beaten: Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek with contestants Ken Jennings, Watson’s ‘avatar’ and Brad Rutter – before Watson went on to wipe the floor with them

When told a patient was pregnant, for example, it altered its treatment suggestion.

Watson is being fed a diet of medical textbooks and journals and taking training questions in plain language from medical students.

A doctor who is helping IBM says its database might soon include entries from blogs.

The imposing Watson first made headlines when it comprehensively beat Jeopardy! champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.

Medical diagnoses: IBM says Watson will soon be able to help doctors diagnose and treat individual patients, by swiftly analysing personal data

Medical diagnoses: IBM says Watson will soon be able to help doctors diagnose and treat individual patients, by swiftly analysing personal data

Named after IBM’s former president Thomas Watson, the computer’s secret to succes is its ability to understand language and solve problems through complex algorithms.

It makes it even more evolved than Deep Blue, an IBM chess-playing supercomputer that beat world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

The mastermind is actually housed in two units. Each unit contains five racks and each rack has 10 IBM Power 750 servers.

Namesake: Pioneering IBM founder Tom Watson pictured in 1966. The supercomputer is named after him

Namesake: Pioneering IBM founder Tom Watson pictured in 1966 with an early computing machine. The supercomputer is named after him.

When all are linked up they are the equivalent to 2,800 powerful computers with a memory of 15trillion bytes.

Watson is a pretty noisy contraption, but most of the noise comes from two large refrigerated units used to cool the machine down.

IBM researchers have been developing Watson for almost four years.

The company spends around $6billion a year on research and development. An unspecified part of that goes to what it calls ‘grand challenges’, or big, multi-year science projects such as Watson and Deep Blue.

IBM is attempting to create computers that can mimic the human ability to comprehend and answer natural language questions.

Via DailyMail

Log-in to Facebook with an iris scan

leave a comment »

In the films Minority Report and Demolition Man, and indeed many other sci-fi flicks, iris recognition is used to gain access to top secret files – often with gruesome results.

But very soon the technology could be turned to more mundane applications.

A New York-based biometric security company is set to market an iris scanner that would connect to a personal computer the next few months.

The future is now: Iris scanners for personal computers could be on the market within months.

The device will allow users to log into their online banking, social networks and emails – all in the blink of an eye.

Hoyos Group unveiled their new security product, dubbed the EyeLock, at the Finovate financial technology conference, amid claims that it is the first and only portable iris-scanning device for consumers.

The device, which is the size of a standard business card and weighs about 4oz, connects to the user’s computer by a USB cable.

Once the accompanying software package is installed and configured, all the user then has to do to is wave the scanner in front of her eye to automatically log in to any password-protected application or website – whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, PayPal or a bank account.

‘Every time you log in, it reads your iris and creates a unique key, which is a series of numbers, and this key changes every time you log in, so no one can hack it,’ Tracy Hoyos, Hoyos Group’s assistant marketing director, told CNNMoney.

According to Miss Hoyos, the security offered by iris scans trumps fingerprints, the already widely available biometric alternative. Fingerprints have around 18 unique points to build a identification profile, while human irises have 2,000.

While governments and financial institutions have tried to implement iris scan security before, Miss Hoyos claims this is the first time the technology has been adapted for consumers.

She said that not only will the technology protect your information better, but it eliminates the need for keeping track of multiple screen names and passwords.

The EyeLock will cost $99 (£60), but no release date has yet been announced. The company has already marketed another iris-scan product used in airport security and is researching ways to expand the service to other areas, including mobile phones.

Of course, squeamish customers may be afraid that data thieves could go to extreme lengths, up to and including butchery, to gain access to their private information.

But they can rest easy. ‘If someone kills you, it won’t work, because once you die your eye automatically flattens so your iris isn’t the same,’ said Miss Hoyos.

Via DailyMail

How computers got us into space

leave a comment »

 Retired IBM scientist Arthur Cohen reflects on the beginnings of human spaceflight in 1961.

When you look back at the past 50 years of human spaceflight, don’t forget the computer scientists who helped make it all possible.

That’s the message Arthur Cohen wants to pass along on the golden anniversary of NASA astronaut Alan Shepard’s 1961 Freedom 7 spaceflight, a 15-minute suborbital outing that marked one not-so-small step on the way to the moon. The successful flights made by Shepard and other members of the Mercury 7 depended on the work done by Cohen and thousands of other workers behind the scenes.

“There was a lot of attention given to the seven astronauts,” Cohen recalled in an interview this week. “The thing that was hardly mentioned was the fact that there were computers that were doing the work.”

Today, Cohen is an adjunct professor of mathematics at Nassau Community College in New York, but back in the early 1960s he was manager for the IBM Space Computer Center in Washington, where he directed the development of all computing support for Project Mercury. Two IBM 7090 computer systems at NASA’s nearby Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, plus a backup IBM 709 computer in the Bahamas, provided all the raw number-crunching power to plot the trajectories of those early spacecraft. Western Electric and Bell Labs provided the supporting communication network.

“In those days, 1,000 bits per second was high speed,” the 83-year-old Cohen told me.

The data streaming down from space was funneled through Goddard and then onward to Cape Canaveral, where mission controllers kept watch on the real-time channel. “All the displays at the Cape were actually provided by us,” Cohen said. Somewhere around 75 to 100 people were on IBM’s team to make sure the computers were in sync.

A picture from the old days shows Cohen and members of his team gathered around the computer center, with Mercury astronauts Deke Slayton and Gus Grissom in their midst. “We did wear white shirts — that’s the way IBM was back then, right? — but maybe our sleeves were rolled up,” Cohen joked.

After Project Mercury, Cohen turned to other, more down-to-Earth projects at IBM in New York, and retired from the company in 1988. But he says the spaceflight experience set the tone for his career and those of a whole generation of engineers. “The people who worked on the project did go on to Gemini and Apollo, and some of the people went on to the airline reservation system. One of my guys went on to the air traffic control system and managed that.,” he said. “There was a lot of fallout from this stuff.”

Today, almost everything about spaceflight and its computing requirements is different.

“Things have improved, but it’s basically the same kind of stuff. You still have to check data, edit data, smooth data,” he said. “You’re still driving displays. But I think the space game is going to be much more about understanding something about deep space. It’ll be a different challenge. Here, you’re talking about doing an orbit in 88 minutes. There, you may be talking about years [of orbital calculations], so things may be going somewhat slower in terms of feedback about what’s happening.”

Despite all those diferences, Cohen suspects that the level of dedication among computer scientists will be as high as ever.

“The future for them can’t be any brighter,” he said. “Computers are going to be behind everything that can help mankind, whether it be medicine, or crop yields, or space. Whatever it might be, computers are going to be important. Who knows what we need to do?”

To learn more about Cohen and the contributions made by Project Mercury’s “unsung computers,” check out IBM’s news release and this report from the DVICE blog. Do you have some behind-the-scenes stories about the past 50 years of spaceflight? If so, feel free to share your tales in the comment section below.

– Alan Boyle

Via MSNBC