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MIT Debuts Online Big Data Course for Tech Pros

 Network World (01/09/14) Ann Bednarz

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will offer an online big data course for technology professionals as part of its new lineup of Online X professional programs.  The course, “Tackling the Challenges of Big Data,” will run from March 4 to April 1, and will cover data collection from smartphones, sensors, and the Web.  The course also will address data storage and processing, including scalable relational databases, Hadoop, and Spark; analytics such as machine learning, data compression, and efficient algorithms; visualization, and a range of applications.  MIT will use the Open edX platform to deliver the course, which will include learning assessments, case studies, discussion forums, and a community wiki as part of the experience.  Faculty members from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory will teach the course.  Participants will receive an MIT Professional Education certificate for successfully completing the course, and will gain access to the group’s professional alumni network.


Data Scientists: IT’s New Rock Stars

Network World (01/03/14) Colin Neagle

Data scientists are emerging as some of the most sought-after professionals in today’s technology job market.  Technology and media firms are particularly interested in hiring data scientists, and the field is garnering increasing media attention.  Industry observers advise students planning to enter the IT field to pursue data science.  The Harvard Business Review in October 2012 labeled data scientist as “the sexiest job of the 21st century.”  In addition, data science was spotlighted in a recent American Journalism Review profile of Buzzfeed data science director Ky Harlin, who is responsible for the company’s viral content insights and developed his own algorithms to determine when and why specific pieces of Web content go viral.  Harlin learned his skills at a medical-imaging company, and was recruited by Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti.  He notes that both the medical-imaging and content-publishing fields look for patterns in vast data sets.  “This is where you add real business value,” Peretti says, “where an IT person is not just running machines anymore, but fundamentally taking good information and helping the business make true business decisions so that they can adjust the business in real time based on this information.”


Supercomputers: New Software Needed

InformationWeek (12/31/13) Patience Wait

Software now presents the greatest challenge in supercomputing due to the need for code that matches processing capability.  The top spot in the most recent ranking of supercomputers in November went to China’s National University of Defense Technology’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer, which reached a benchmark speed of 33.86 petaflops/second.  The next goal is exascale computing with speeds of a million trillion calculations per second, which  Argonne National Laboratory’s Mike Papka says is possible by 2020.  One hurdle to building faster supercomputers is creating an operating system that can manage that many calculations per second.  Argonne and two other national laboratories are addressing this challenge with the Argo project.  High-performance computing also increasingly is focused on applicability to other technology developments such as big data and analytics, open systems as opposed to proprietary systems, and energy efficiency as a requirement, says Brocade’s Tony Celeste.  “What matters is not acquiring the iron, but being able to run code that matters,” says DRC’s Rajiv Bendale.  “Rather than increasing the push to parallelize codes, the effort is on efficient use of codes.”


In Exascale, Japan Stands Apart With Firm Delivery Plan

Computerworld (12/30/13) Patrick Thibodeau

Japan announced that it plans to deliver an exascale supercomputer in six years, making it the first country to set a specific date for developing a next-generation exascale system.  The Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science announced that it will lead Japan’s exascale program, with the “successful development of the exascale supercomputer scheduled for 2020.”  Meanwhile, the United States is aiming for an “early 2020s” delivery of an exascale system, according to a Department of Energy official.  In December, Congress approved a fiscal 2014 defense budget bill that requires developing an exascale system by 2024.  In addition, European researchers are developing an ARM-based exascale system with a tentative goal of 2020, while China is thought to be aiming for 2018-2020 timeframe for exascale delivery.  An exascale system can execute a quintillion floating-point operations per second, and it tops a single petaflop system’s computing speed by about 1,000-fold.  The fastest systems in use today are well below 50 petaflops.  Meanwhile, quantum computing also is turning into a race among developed nations.  Britain is investing $444 million in quantum computing over the next five years, while quantum computing work is underway at several U.S. federal research facilities.


NSA Seeks to Build Quantum Computer That Could Crack Most Types of Encryption

The Washington Post (01/03/14) Steven Rich; Barton Gellman

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is trying to develop a quantum computer that could be used to crack almost any type of encryption currently in use, according to documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.  The documents say the initiative is part of a $79.7-million research program called “Penetrating Hard Targets,” which is developing technology that potentially could be used to infiltrate all current forms of public key encryption.  The documents do not discuss the full extent of NSA’s research into quantum computing, although they do suggest the agency is no closer to building a quantum computer than the European Union and Switzerland, both of which are carrying out similar research efforts.  “It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Scott Aaronson.  University of Manchester professor Jeff Forshaw says the NSA is likely at least five years away from building a quantum computer, and possibly much more if no significant breakthroughs are made.  However, once completed, the computer could be used to crack almost every type of encryption used to protect state secrets and other sensitive information, such as 1,024-bit RSA encryption keys, which would take hundreds of standard computers working together about 2,000 years to crack.