Daily TIPs: Military Mind Tech, Cellulosic Plans, Bugs in the Subway, & More

8/14/08

Cyber Command Offline for Now

An Air Force project to coordinate the defense of military computer systems and launch offensives against enemy systems has been put on hold while higher-ups review the plan. The so-called Cyber Command was scheduled to go operational in less than two months before the Pentagon called a time out. InformationWeek says it’s possible the plan will be scrapped entirely.

Military Probes Frontiers of Cognitive Science

Soldiers who control machines with their brains and mind-reading systems for interrogating terror suspects are some of the possible benefits of applying advances in cognitive science to military aims, a new report says. The Department of Defense asked a committee of the National Research Council to evaluate cognitive science research to see what it might lead to, Wired reports. Among the possibilities: brain scans that can tell whether a suspect is lying, and machine-brain interfaces that allow people to control robotic prostheses or software at a distance. As one wag wonders, haven’t they ever seen “The Terminator”?

Genome Scans Could Improve Biofuels

Understanding the genomes of the organisms involved could allow scientists to engineer better plants and improve the biofuel-producing microbes that feed on them, according to a paper appearing in the journal Nature. Ars Technica says there’s already been a lot of work looking for ways to improve the characteristics of cellulose in plants, which contains more potential for fuel than the less complex sugars in corn kernels. And although researchers know of many bacteria that can break down cellulose, they don’t yet understand how they work.

Poet Announces Cellulosic Ethanol Plan

At least one company says it’s ready to start making ethanol from cellulose, at least on a small scale. Poet, of Sioux City, IA, which is the country’s top ethanol producer, has started building a pilot facility in Scotland, SD, and plans to produce ethanol from crop waste by the end of the year, Reuters reports. The company’s hope is to increase the supply of ethanol without driving up food prices.

Disclosing Bugs is Best, Experts Say

While MIT students and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority argue in court about whether the students can talk about flaws they found in the MBTA’s fare-card system, computer security experts say that suppressing such research could ultimately make computers more vulnerable to attack. Technology Review quotes experts as saying that security flaws won’t get fixed if the public doesn’t hear about them, and that the students should be viewed as providing a free service rather than posing a threat.

Lab Breaks Solar Cell Record

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says it has set a new record for efficiency in solar cells, the Associated Press reports. The NREL developed a solar cell that converts 40.8 percent of the light striking it into electricity, and that can probably be improved, a spokesman said. Raising conversion efficiency is one way to bring the cost of solar power down to where it can compete with coal.

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