January 1/8, 2003   

   Interface gets the point
Getting computers to understand humans the way humans understand humans is a tremendous challenge. Intonation and gestures, and the way they work together, convey meaning that is usually lost on computers. Teaching computers to listen to how we speak and to connect intonation to gesture could go a long way toward bringing them up to speed.
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Altered protein orders metal bits
To withstand near-boiling temperature water you need hearty genes. A protein produced by a bacteria that lives in hot springs makes for a biological material that holds up to rigorous handling. Using genetic engineering to give the tube-like protein sticky ends makes the material a building block for tomorrow's computer memory, optical networks and quantum computers.

Hubs increase Net risk
The Internet was designed to be so decentralized that it could survive a nuclear attack. But economic considerations are driving today's commercial Net toward a hub-and-spoke configuration, making it more vulnerable to catastrophic failures. A study lays out just how the chips would fall.

Electron pairs power quantum plan
There are lots of ideas for how to build quantum computers, but it's far too soon to tell which, if any, will pan out. Designs based on today's semiconductor technology, however, seem to be gaining momentum. A plan that uses microscopic squares of semiconductor is angling for an advantage by following some age-old advice -- keep it simple.

Aligned fields could speed storage
A material whose magnetic and electric orientations line up could make for faster magnetic data storage devices. The trick will be getting the alignment to stick at temperatures well North of cryogenic.

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