INTERNET LOGJAMS, SECURITY
Internet "logjams" and security were the topics of two talks by MIT professors attending a conference in China in late May on "New Directions in Information Technology."
Barbara Liskov, the NEC Professor of Software Science and Engineering, warned that "the risk from malicious [hacker] attacks is real and increasing for users of online services," according to the May 30 China Post. A key to security: replication of data. "By having multiple copies of the information, the system can ensure that the information remains available even when some copies are lost or corrupted."
One way to get around Internet "logjams," said Professor M. Frans Kaashoek of electrical engineering and computer science in his talk at the conference, is the construction of "overlay networks."
Kaashoek said "the Internet in its current state is jammed with information being slowly routed to its destination and is, as a consequence, poorly suited to critical applications." Overlay networks "constructed on top of the existing Internet increase the avenues for information distribution across the Internet."
STASHING GREENHOUSE GASES
In the battle against global warming, scientists have proposed many potential weapons. In a June 26 story in the San Jose Mercury News, MIT researchers commented on two of these, both involving the ocean.
One approach: deposit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide deep within the seas. Howard Herzog, a researcher at the Energy Lab, doesn't see this as a long-term fix. However, "he thinks it could help keep atmospheric CO2 levels in check during the transition from fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases as they burn, to alternative energy sources that don't," wrote Greg Miller of the Mercury News.
Professor Sallie Chisholm of the Departments of Biology and Civil and Environmental Engineering "is one of the biggest critics" of a second proposal, wrote Miller. This approach would fertilize the oceans to increase plant life that would in turn absorb more CO2.
Chisholm told the Mercury News that "fertilization could kick off a terrible chain reaction." The increased amount of phytoplankton, for example, could in turn produce large populations of bacteria that consume oxygen. And "an overabundance of such bacteria could deplete the supply of oxygen in the deep ocean, suffocating fish and other animals.
"We can't go into this thinking it's a free lunch," she concluded.
CLIPS AND QUOTES
"Over and over in the history of astronomy, a new instrument finds things we never expected to see." -- Professor of Physics Rainer Weiss in the May issue of Discover magazine in a story about a new observatory for detecting gravitational waves. Weiss is one of the leaders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO.
"Right now, we certainly can't claim to have come up with a theory of creation, but it does look like it's within our grasp." -- Alan Guth, the Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics, in a May 28 Newsweek story about how the universe was born.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 18, 2001.