Posts tagged Research

Gates: Privacy a ‘challenge’ as software advances

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As software gets more powerful, privacy issues pose an “interesting software challenge,” says Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

Recounting a short history of software development, Gates said innovations in natural interaction technology are making technology more pervasive. “When interaction gets more natural, computers can be everywhere to listen to you,” he said, adding that “society will have to have more explicit rules” governing privacy boundaries around software as technology develops.

Gates was speaking here to mark the 10th anniversary of Microsoft Research Asia, one of the software giant’s research arms.

Explaining the company’s focus on software research and development, he said its $7 billion investment in that direction is necessary to push innovation in a market that is “increasingly software driven.”

“Even in a field like astronomy, it’s not just looking through an eyepiece but testing theories, and software lets you do that,” he said.

Noting that software is extending beyond PCs, Gates said mobile software is a market that is growing rapidly in importance. He added: “Mobile phones are increasingly becoming software-driven platforms, although they were just for voice before.”

But it is a hardware innovation that will make mobiles more accessible for high-end functions. Amid developments in phone processors and mobile applications, it is screen technology that holds the key to bridging the divide between mobile devices and PCs, Gates noted.

“As we get screens that can roll or fold out to be bigger, or mobile devices that have small screens but can project larger images on walls, that line between what’s a PC and a mobile will keep getting grayer,” Gates said.

Another device that is expected to overlap with PC capabilities is the TV, he noted.

“Software innovation will be pervasive; it will happen to other things in our lives, like our cars and our TVs,” he said.

Microsoft is working to place its R&D efforts in speech recognition technology to make TV watching more interactive, according to Gates.

In a demonstration shortly after his address, a Microsoft executive showcased a TV that was pulling a video clip from the Internet. He performed a search through the video content by way of speech recognition. This provides more comprehensive search results beyond current methods of running a text query through a video’s title and summary,

Beyond these developments, more important for the developing world is in putting computers within reach, he added.

“Digital access is almost becoming like literacy…Children in poor countries need to get it too,” Gates said.

Scientists closer to invisibility cloak

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Scientists say they are a step closer to developing materials that could render people and objects invisible.

Researchers have demonstrated for the first time they were able to cloak three-dimensional objects using artificially engineered materials that redirect light around the objects.

Previously, they only have been able to cloak very thin two-dimensional objects.

The findings, by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, led by Xiang Zhang, are to be released later this week in the journals Nature and Science.

The new work moves scientists a step closer to hiding people and objects from visible light, which could have broad applications, including military ones.

People can see objects because they scatter the light that strikes them, reflecting some of it back to the eye.

Cloaking uses materials, known as metamaterials, to deflect radar, light or other waves around an object, like water flowing around a smooth rock in a stream.

Metamaterials are mixtures of metal and circuit board materials such as ceramic, Teflon or fibrecomposite. They are designed to bend visible light in a way ordinary materials don’t.

Scientists are trying to use them to bend light around objects so they don’t create reflections or shadows.

It differs from stealth technology, which does not make an aircraft invisible but reduces the cross-section available to radar, making it hard to track.

The research was funded in part by the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation’s Nano-Scale Science and Engineering Center.

Microsoft to provide security help via MSVR

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Microsoft Corp.’s security team will help third-party developers of Windows applications and add-ons find and fix bugs in their software, the company said today.

The program, dubbed Microsoft Vulnerability Research (MSVR), is a formalization of things the company currently does, not a brand-new initiative, said Andrew Cushman, the company’s director of security response and outreach, from the Black Hat security conference.

“This is work we’re already doing,” he said. “We’ll report vulnerabilities we find in third-party software, and we’ll work with them to identify, resolve and mitigate those vulnerabilities.”

Microsoft has, at times, gone public with work it has done in collaboration with other software vendors. One of the most recent examples was in May and June, when Microsoft worked with Apple Inc. on flaws in both its own Internet Explorer browser and Apple’s Safari. Then, however, Microsoft took shots at its rival, telling users in one of its security advisories that they should stop using Apple’s browser until it was fixed.

Earlier this year, Microsoft helped out Yahoo Inc. by issuing a “kill bit” update through its Windows Update service that disabled a buggy ActiveX control installed by Yahoo on PCs that played tunes purchased from its now-defunct online music store.

According to Cushman, Microsoft’s security researchers will report bugs they find during their work to third-party developers, and coordinate their work to make sure that details of those vulnerabilities don’t go public before a patch is in place. He also said Microsoft would help those third-party companies in other ways, but he was somewhat vague about the extent of that help.

When asked if Microsoft would enhance its Windows Update service so that it pushed third-party updates to Windows users, for example, he hesitated for several seconds before answering: “That’s a hard question. We’re always looking to provide the best experience for our customers, so we’ll examine all aspects, including vulnerability identification, other mitigations and as a final link, detection and deployment.

“But I can’t say we would use Windows Update.”

Microsoft won’t issue security advisories for third-party software as it does for its own programs, said Cushman. Instead, according to a follow-up fact sheet that the company’s public relations firm provided, outside vendors will be given “the necessary information and assistance to develop an update to address the vulnerability.”

Cushman said the move was in Microsoft’s own interests, but he also argued that it would be a win for everyone. “Some may question [our motives], but this is for the good of customers and the enterprise, and it will help protect their environment of Microsoft [software] and other software as well.

“It will raise the level of security and is good for the whole ecosystem,” he added.

$100 Laptops for Indian Students

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A low-cost laptop being developed for educational uses by India’s government in tandem with two leading educational and research institutions in that country will cost $100 when it becomes available — not $10, as previously stated by the government.

A spokesman for D. Purandeswari, India’s minister of state for higher education, said today that the envisioned price of the laptop was listed incorrectly in the transcript of a speech that Purandeswari gave at a conference in Delhi on Tuesday.

The transcript, which was provided to reporters by the Indian government’s press bureau, quoted the minister as saying that the government was aiming to offer $10 laptops to students. It has since been corrected to include the actual price that she mentioned in the speech.

Research work toward the development of the low-cost laptop is being done at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras. However, the Indian government has yet to disclose any information about the laptop’s features and technical specifications, nor has it said whether the price would include a government subsidy.

SCOPE : Optimize storing of search logs

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A new whitepaper that Microsoft researchers are set to present at a conference next month sheds more light on Microsoft’s back-end cloud infrastructure.

The paper, entitled, “SCOPE: Easy and Efficient Parallel Processing of Massive Data Sets,” details a new declarative scripting language that is optimized for storing and analyzing massive data sets (like search logs and click streams) that are key to cloud-scale service architectures.  SCOPE, or Structure Computations Optimized for Parallel Execution, is the name of the language.

According to the paper — which Microsoft is on tap to present at the VLDB 2008 conference in late August — SCOPE doesn’t require explicit parallelism, but it will be “amenable to efficient parallel execution” across large clusters. SCOPE is like SQL, but with C# extensions, the paper says.

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