Archive for October, 2008

PostHeaderIcon The Tech Lab

Multicore chip, IntelAndrew Herbert is head of Microsoft Research in Cambridge. Here he takes a look at the changes that multi-core computers could usher in.

"If you’ve been looking at buying a new computer lately, you can’t fail to have noticed that multi-core technology is the “next big thing”.

The latest PCs have suddenly sprung two cores while servers rejoice in four, and we are promised yet faster computing.

So why the excitement After all, if a multi-core computer opens a document a millisecond faster than my old PC, it’s hardly going to change my life, is it

I’d like to suggest that the answer to this question is both yes and no. In altering the way in which we interact with computers, technology has the capacity to become ever-more helpful, and ever-less invasive.

List processing

Before multi-core, the PC was a sequential machine that executed a set series of tasks – much like a flow chart.

The thinking behind multi-core is relatively simple, following the principle that two heads (or four, or 32, or 64) are better than one.

The principle might be simple but it offers a significant change in potential -there are now multiple flow charts being executed and the way they interact is far more exciting.

"Today we set computers tasks; tomorrow we will ask them questions and set them objectives."
Andrew Herbert

For exciting, also read “complicated”; this presents huge programming challenges as we have to address the immensely complex interplay between multiple processors (think of a juggler riding a unicycle on a high wire, and you’re starting to get the idea).

The pay-off is that your PC suddenly has time on its hands, with one processor doing what you’ve asked it to do and the others free to do other things.

Exploring what these “other things” could be is now driving software research. The effects are difficult to predict, but let’s start by looking at what it might mean for our hardware.

We’re thoroughly familiar with the technology that lets us interact with the computer, but we’re still not comfortable with it. Voice, gesture and handwriting recognition have been available for a number of years but the keyboard and mouse remain by far the most pervasive tools.

The advent of multi-core, however, means this is set to change.

Handwriting recognition systems, for example, work by either identifying pen movement, or by recognising the written image itself. Currently, each approach works, but each has certain drawbacks that hinder adoption as a serious interface.

Now, with a different processor focusing on each recognition approach, learning our handwriting style and combining results, multi-core PCs will dramatically increase the accuracy of handwriting recognition. So, don’t get too attached to your keyboard.

Clever tools

A computer’s ability to gain this kind of knowledge, and then intelligently apply it, is made possible through the combination of two research techniques: “speculative execution” and “machine learning”.

At the moment my computer is just a tool – I tell it what to do and it does it. This means that when using my computer to book regular business trips, I have to enter my preferences each and every time.

Andrew Herbert, Microsoft
A multi-core computer can learn what I’m like- and what I like- and through speculative execution, start making educated guesses about how I want to travel and what I want to do next. Like the perfect PA, the computer will be able to anticipate and know what I’m about to do, even before I do.

This has important implications in internet search- our window on the world.

At the moment we search based on keywords, so if I want to find a quote that I vaguely remember, which might have been in a book by a particular author, I will enter keywords into the engine – and hope.

With speculative execution I will be able to ask the computer the question directly and it will deliver exactly what I want, not just a list of websites that contain my keywords.Today we set computers tasks; tomorrow we will ask them questions and set them objectives.

Predicting how we will live in the future can be the technologist’s graveyard, but I’m going to have a go.In five years’ time I will walk into my office (I predict there will still be offices) where there will be multiple screens – all an extension of my PC.

There will be a screen on my desk, a whiteboard style screen on the wall and a screen embedded in the surface of my desk. I will be able to manipulate these through my keyboard (despite what I said earlier, I predict there will still be a keyboard!), my voice and my finger tips.

Smart help

The PC will automatically begin communicating with my personal, portable devices – updating contacts, diary information and downloading any pictures I have taken.

When I show my computer a letter that arrived in the post, it will immediately scan it into the digital world.

The computer will know that on most mornings I check my e-mail, look at BBC Online and access an Excel spreadsheet to check my lab’s accounts- all this will be ready and waiting for me.

Human mouth, BBCI will deal with my e-mails by voice, with the computer intuitively knowing addressees when I mention their forename. Technology will just “happen”.

Sounds good, doesn’t it, but what’s the catch

Computers that learn from and anticipate humans may remind some of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL, running amok in the deeps of space. But my answer is that technology is amoral.

I can use a spade to dig a hole or to hit someone over the head with – the choice is mine (and for those wondering, I would use it to dig a hole, mostly).

Our objective, as computers play a greater role in our lives, is to ensure that they are imbued with human concepts such as ownership, privacy and personal freedom. What is important is that as humans, we are aware of technology’s implications and given choices on how we interact with it.

At its worst, technology today can be invasive as well as pervasive – clumsy and unwieldy it can demand a lot of our time and attention.

My vision of a multi-core future is not some science fiction extravaganza where we use a vast array of gadgets in a world substantially different from our own. In fact, my hope is almost the exact opposite – I see the potential of multi-core computing being the ability to take the hard edges off technology.

In my future, technology will be less visible, more human and simply make our lives easier.


This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation

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PostHeaderIcon Cybercrime wave sweeping Britain

PCB and iron

Cybercrime in the UK rose by more than 9% in 2007, according to a new report.

Online identity firm Garlik’s cybercrime report claims that more than 3.5 million online crimes were committed in the UK last year.

The majority of crimes related to fraud and abusive or threatening emails. There was an 8% drop in online identity theft and sexual offences fell 2%.

Tom Ilube, of Garlick, said he expected to see a growth in online financial fraud due to the credit crunch.

"Everyone who goes online will be the subject of some kind of internet crime"

Andrew Goodwill
3rd Man

In 2007, the sharpest rise was in online financial fraud, with more than 250,000 incidents reported in 2007; a 20% rise on the previous year.

The report highlighted a growing professionalism among online criminals, with personal and credit details being traded online.

Garlik said that the information black market had doubled, with more than 19,000 illicit traders identified.

Abuse and blackmail

Online harassment also increased. More than two million people were the victim of an abusive email, false accusation or blackmail attempt.

It is thought the growing popularity of social networking sites helped drive this, providing a new widespread medium for online harassment.


  • United States 63.2%

  • United Kingdom 15.3%

  • Nigeria 5.7%

  • Canada 5.6%

  • Romania 1.5%

Source: The Internet Crime Complaint Center 2007 annual report

However, there was a drop in cases of online identity theft, which fell 8% to just over 80,000 reported cases.

The number of online sexual offences also fell by 2% to 830,000.

The report warned that a rise in overall cybercrime was to be expected, with people resorting to illegal activities as the economic climate worsens.

Cybercrime is one of the fastest-growing criminal activities and covers a wide range of offences, including financial scams, hacking, harassment and identity theft.

"As long as the credit crunch continues, we can expect to see a real growth in online financial fraud"

Tom Ilube

But some people think the report is just the tip of the iceberg.

Andrew Goodwill, from fraud prevention specialists The 3rd Man, said cybercrime was mushrooming out of proportion.

“Cybercrime costs the country hundreds of millions every year,” he said.

“Retailers alone lost more than £270m in 2007 from internet fraud. And that’s just the figures reported by banks.

“These numbers are a shadow of the real figure. Pretty much everyone who goes online will be the subject of some kind of internet crime, be it phishing emails, virus attacks or malware,” he said.

According to the FBI, the UK is home to many of the perpetrators.

In a 2007 report by its Internet Crime Complaint Center, Britain came second after the United States (and before Nigeria) as the source of online crime.

Garlik’s chief executive Tom Ilube sounded a warning for the future.

“It’s critical in this time of financial crisis that individuals are vigilant with their personal information, because as long as the credit crunch continues, we can expect to see a real growth in online financial fraud,” he said

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation

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PostHeaderIcon Tech giants in human rights deal

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

People using the internet in Beijing

Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have signed a global code of conduct promising to offer better protection for online free speech and against official intrusion.

The Global Network Initiative follows criticism that companies were assisting governments in countries like China to censor the Internet.

The guidelines seek to limit what data should be shared with authorities, in cases where free speech is an issue.

“This is an important first step,” said Mike Posner of Human Rights First.

He told the BBC “What this is a recognition by all these tech companies, the human rights groups and social investors that there has to be a collective response to this growing problem.

“Companies need to step up to the plate and be more aggressive in challenging unwarranted government interference,” he said.

The initiative states that privacy is “a human right and guarantor of human dignity,” and the agreement commits the companies to try to resist overly broad demands for restrictions on freedom of speech and the privacy of users.

They will also assess the human rights climate in a country before concluding business deals and make sure their employees and partners follow suit.

“These principles are not going to be a silver bullet, but the most important point for me is to provide transparency,” said Danny O’Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“We have joined this initiative because we know that a wide range of groups working together can achieve much more than the company acting alone,” said Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s director of global public policy.

‘Valuable roadmap’

The impetus for such an agreement follows years of criticism that a number of businesses, including Google, Yahoo andMicrosoft have complicity built what has been dubbed the “Great Firewall of China”.

Screen grab of Skype website

Google has been accused ofcomplying with Chinese government demands to filter internet searches to eliminate query results regarding topics such as democracy or Tiananmen Square.

Microsoft has come under attack for blocking the blog of a prominent Chinese Media researcher who posted articles critical of a management purge at the Beijing News Daily.

Canadian researchers uncovered that a Skype joint venture in China monitored users’ communications.

And a Chinese reporter Shi Tao was jailed for 10 years after Yahoo China provided his personal information to the Chinese government.

Today Yahoo co-founder and CEO Jerry Yang welcomed the new code of conduct.

“These principles provide a valuable roadmap for companies like Yahoo operating in markets where freedom of expression and privacy are unfairly restricted.

Shi Tao, file picture

“Yahoo was founded on the belief that promoting access to information can enrich people’s lives and the principles we unveiled today reflect our determination that our actions match our values around the world,” said Mr Yang.

While China has been painted as the worst abuser, Colin Maclay of the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University said there are other countries and governments all over the world at fault.

“The number of states actively seeking to censor online content and access personal information is growing.

“And the means employed – technical, social, legal, political – are increasingly sophisticated, often placing internet and telecommunications companies in difficult positions.”

‘Business case’

The Global Network Initiative was drawn up by the internet companies along with human rights groups, academics and investors.

Adam Kanzer who is the managing director and general counsel at Domini Social Investments said as well as being the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.

He told BBC News “When you see the industry being caught up in the tactics of various regimes around the world, the business case is very clear.Freedom of expression and privacy is core to their business.

“They depend on a wide open, freely accessible and secure internet.That’s what they are about.If people don’t trust the internet and believe they are secure, then that is counterproductive to their business.”

Computer keyboard, Eyewire

The effort is already being seen by some as not going far enough.

“After two years of effort, they have ended up with so little,” said Morton Sklar executive director for the World Organisation for Human Rights USA.

“It is very little more than a broad statement of support for a general principle without any concrete backup mechanism to ensure that the guidelines will be followed.”

Mr Posner of Human Rights First disputes that and said this agreement has not been set up as a “gotcha system” but as a way “to work with companies to get them to improvewhat they are doing, credit them when they do it and call them out if they fail.”

While it is hoped many more companies will sign up, two European telecommunications firms, France Telecom and Vodafone, are already said to be considering adding their names

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation

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