System Bits: Sept. 13

Faster parallel computing; breaking net neutrality deadlock; smartphones as design systems.

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Big data programming language
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) researchers this week are presenting a new programming language, called Milk, that lets application developers manage memory more efficiently in programs that deal with scattered data points in large data sets.

The researchers reminded that in today’s computer chips, memory management is based on what computer scientists call the principle of locality: If a program needs a chunk of data stored at some memory location, it probably needs the neighboring chunks as well. However, that assumption breaks down in the age of big data, now that computer programs more frequently act on just a few data items scattered arbitrarily across huge data sets. Fetching data from the main memory banks is the major performance bottleneck in today’s chips, therefore, having to fetch it more frequently can dramatically slow program execution.

MIT researchers have designed a new programming language that lets application developers manage memory more efficiently in programs that deal with scattered data points in large data sets. In tests on several common algorithms, programs written in the new language were four times as fast as those written in existing languages. (Source: MIT)

MIT researchers have designed a new programming language that lets application developers manage memory more efficiently in programs that deal with scattered data points in large data sets. In tests on several common algorithms, programs written in the new language were four times as fast as those written in existing languages.
(Source: MIT)

As such, the team reports that in tests on several common algorithms, programs written in Milk were four times as fast as those written in existing languages, and they believe further work will yield even larger gains.

Preserving open internet access
In an advance that could transform the network neutrality debate, Stanford University researchers have invented a technology that would allow an internet user to tell network providers and online publishers when and if they want content or services to be given preferential delivery.

The researchers reminded that net neutrality is the proposition that internet providers should allow equal access to all content rather than give certain applications favored status or block others. On home networks, favored status is known as fast track delivery; on mobile devices the terminology is zero-rating, because favored traffic does not count against data usage caps.

For years, the net neutrality debate has been at an impasse: either the internet is open or preferences are allowed.

But the Stanford engineers – Professor Nick McKeown, Associate Professor Sachin Katti and electrical engineering PhD Yiannis Yiakoumis ­– say their new technology, called Network Cookies, makes it possible to have preferential delivery and an open internet. Network Cookies allow users to choose which home or mobile traffic should get favored delivery, while putting network operators and content providers on a level playing field in catering to such user-signaled preferences.

They said net neutrality has been promoted as the best possible defense for users but that treating all traffic the same isn’t necessarily the best way to protect users as it often restricts options, which is why so-called exceptions from neutrality often come up. The Stanford team thinks the best way to ensure that ISPs and content providers don’t make decisions that conflict with the interests of users is to let users decide how to configure their own traffic.

Smartphone as design system
A new system under development by Purdue University researchers could allow people with no technical training to use their smartphones and tablets to easily create designs and fabricate them with a 3-D printer or a laser cutter.

The team explained that depth-sensing cameras in a phone might be used to scan objects, which can then be digitized, modified and incorporated into new creations. The system allows the use of standard smartphone gestures such as swipe, pinch and move to create the designs.

Research to develop the system, called MakerPad, is funded with a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is led by Karthik Ramani, the Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University.

Collaborators in the project include the company ZeroUI Inc., which Ramani co-founded, the Imagination Station museum in Lafayette, Ind., and Purdue’s Gifted Education Resource Institute.

Check out a YouTube video about the MakerPad here.