Where do you draw the line?


DNA: The Ultimate Hard Drive
When it comes to storing information, hard drives don’t hold a candle to DNA. Our genetic code packs billions of gigabytes into a single gram. A mere milligram of the molecule could encode the complete text of every book in the Library of Congress and have plenty of room to spare. All of this has been mostly theoretical — until now. In a new study, researchers stored an entire genetics textbook in less than a picogram of DNA — one trillionth of a gram — an advance that could revolutionize our ability to save data.

A few teams have tried to write data into the genomes of living cells. But the approach has a couple of disadvantages. First, cells die — not a good way to lose your term paper. They also replicate, introducing new mutations over time that can change the data.

To get around these problems, a team led by George Church, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, created a DNA information-archiving system that uses no cells at all. Instead, an inkjet printer embeds short fragments of chemically synthesized DNA onto the surface of a tiny glass chip. To encode a digital file, researchers divide it into tiny blocks of data and convert these data not into the 1s and 0s of typical digital storage media, but rather into DNA’s four-letter alphabet of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. Each DNA fragment also contains a digital “barcode” that records its location in the original file. Reading the data requires a DNA sequencer and a computer to reassemble all of the fragments in order and convert them back into digital format. The computer also corrects for errors; each block of data is replicated thousands of times so that any chance glitch can be identified and fixed by comparing it to the other copies.

To demonstrate its system in action, the team used the DNA chips to encode a genetics book co-authored by Church. It worked. After converting the book into DNA and translating it back into digital form, the team’s system had a raw error rate of only two errors per million bits, amounting to a few single-letter typos. That is on par with DVDs and far better than magnetic hard drives. And because of their tiny size, DNA chips are now the storage medium with the highest known information density, the researchers report online today in Science.    -Source

Congress Pushes Biometrics

The Federal Trade Commission has no jurisdiction over government entities so when it looks with concern at the use of facial recognition technology, it’s looking at the private sector.

Facial recognition is only one of many biometric technologies, of course, and Congress is pushing hard for biometrics that can help track and control us for various purposes. If anyone should be looking with concern, it should be us looking at the federal government.

There are legitimate uses for biometrics, of course, and well-designed implementations will undoubtedly benefit us all. But biometrics programs implemented for the government will tend to prioritize hoovering up federal cash over striking delicate balances among cost, effectiveness, privacy, and civil liberties.

So let’s look at how Congress is pressing—and in one case insufficiently restraining—the rapid advance of biometrics.    -Source

National Institute for Standards and Technology Seeks Web-Linked Biometric Device

No biometric scanning device exists that has web-enabled communication and control based on a publicly available specification, says the National Institute of Standards and Technology. And NIST wants to change that.

As part of its Small Business Innovation Research program, NIST says it seeks innovative proposals for the design and development of a small form-factor, tamper-resistant and handheld fingerprint sensor. The integrated, wirelessly available web-services biometric device would include a self-contained battery/power source. The device must incorporate a physical connection for customization of the wireless controls and service. The physical connection can be USB or other; if other is chosen, NIST must approve the connection type.

The goal of this initiative, for which NIST will provide funding, is to produce a fully functional, handheld device that's capable of biometric acquisition, and controlled through web services as specified in NIST Special Publication 500-288: Specification for WS-Biometric Devices.

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