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DO THEY EVER LISTEN TO SCIENTISTS?
SCIENCE IN THE MODERN WORLD
DO THEY EVER LISTEN TO SCIENTISTS?
1. Watch an episode from the movie Agora. What do you think the ancient scientist has discovered? Do you believe it might have happened like that? And, by the way, what was her name?
2. In pairs, talk about the progress science has made over the centuries. Do you think it is really amazing? Give your reasons.
3.In small groups, create a list of top ten most wondrous scientific discoveries of the last 60 years.
4.In your group, compare the lists you have come up with. Try to agree on the top five together.
5. Practice jig-saw reading. Read the article about a contemporary scientist. Readers of Text A, say why the problem under discussion is so important. Readers of Text B, say what lessons the computer scientist learned from biology.
Text A (630 words)
Many people cite Albert Einstein’s aphorism “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Only a handful, however, have had the opportunity to discuss the concept with the physicist over breakfast. One of those is Peter G. Neumann, now an 80-year-old computer scientist.
As an applied-mathematics student at Harvard, Dr. Neumann had a two-hour breakfast with Einstein on Nov. 8, 1952. What the young math student took away was a deeply held philosophy of design that has remained with him for six decades and has been his governing principle of computing and computer security.
For many of those years, Dr. Neumann has remained a voice in the wilderness, tirelessly pointing out that the computer industry has a penchant for repeating the mistakes of the past. He has long been one of the nation’s leading specialists in computer security, and early on he predicted that the security flaws that have accompanied the pell-mell explosion of the computer and Internet industries would have disastrous consequences.
“His biggest contribution is to stress the ‘systems’ nature of the security and reliability problems,” said Steven M. Bellovin, chief technology officer of the Federal Trade Commission. “That is, trouble occurs not because of one failure, but because of the way many different pieces interact.”
Dr. Bellovin said that it was Dr. Neumann who originally gave him the insight that “complex systems break in complex ways” — that the increasing complexity of modern hardware and software has made it virtually impossible to identify the flaws and vulnerabilities in computer systems and ensure that they are secure and trustworthy.
The consequence has come to pass in the form of an epidemic of computer malware and rising concerns about cyber warfare as a threat to global security, voiced alarmingly this month by the defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, who warned of a possible “cyber-Pearl Harbor” attack on the United States.
It is remarkable, then, that years after most of his contemporaries have retired, Dr. Neumann is still at it and has seized the opportunity to start over and redesign computers and software from a “clean slate.” He is leading a team of researchers in an effort to completely rethink how to make computers and networks secure, in a five-year project financed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, with Robert N. Watson, a computer security researcher at Cambridge University’s Computer Laboratory.
“I’ve been tilting at the same windmills for basically 40 years,” said Dr. Neumann recently during a lunchtime interview at a Chinese restaurant near his art-filled home in Palo Alto, Calif. “And I get the impression that most of the folks who are responsible don’t want to hear about complexity. They are interested in quick and dirty solutions.”
A trim and agile man, with piercing eyes and a salt-and-pepper beard, Dr. Neumann has practiced tai chi for decades. But his passion, besides computer security, is music. He plays a variety of instruments, including bassoon, French horn, trombone and piano, and is active in a variety of musical groups. At computer security conferences it has become a tradition for Dr. Neumann to lead his colleagues in song, playing tunes from Gilbert and Sullivan and Tom Lehrer.
Until recently, security was a backwater in the world of computing. Today it is a multibillion-dollar industry, though one of dubious competence, and safeguarding the nation’s computerized critical infrastructure has taken on added urgency. Dr. Neumann reasons that the only workable and complete solution to the computer security crisis is to study the past half century’s research, cherry-pick the best ideas and then build something new from the bottom up. Dr. Neumann is one of the most qualified people to lead such an effort to rethink security. He has been there for the entire trajectory of modern computing — even before its earliest days.
Text B (630 words)
The Internet enables almost any computer in the world to connect directly to any other one, so it makes it possible for an attacker who identifies a single vulnerability to almost instantly compromise a vast number of systems. But borrowing from another science, Dr. Neumann notes that biological systems have multiple immune systems — not only are there initial barriers, but a second system consisting of sentinels like T-cells has the ability to detect and eliminate intruders and then remember them to provide protection in the future. In contrast, today’s computer and network systems were largely designed with security as an afterthought, if at all.
One design approach that Dr. Neumann’s research team is pursuing is known as a tagged architecture. In effect, each piece of data in the experimental system must carry “credentials” — an encryption code that ensures that it is one that the system trusts. If the data or program’s papers are not in order, the computer won’t process them. For Dr. Neumann, one of the most frustrating parts of the process is seeing problems that were solved technically as long ago as four decades still plague the computer world. A classic example is “buffer overflow” vulnerability, a design flaw that permits an attacker to send a file with a long string of characters that will overrun an area of a computer’s memory, causing the program to fail and make it possible for the intruder to execute a malicious program.
Almost 25 years ago, Robert Tappan Morris, then a graduate student at Cornell University, used the technique to make his worm program spread throughout an Internet that was then composed of about only 50,000 computers.
Dr. Neumann had attended Harvard with Robert Morris, Robert Tappan Morris’s father, and then worked with him at Bell Laboratories in the 1960s and 1970s, where the elder Mr. Morris was one of the inventors of the Unix operating system. Dr. Neumann, a close family friend, was prepared to testify at the trial of the young programmer, who carried out his hacking stunt with no real malicious intent. He was convicted and fined, and is now a professor at M.I.T.
At the time that the Morris Worm had run amok on the Internet, the buffer overflow flaw had already been known about and controlled in the Multics operating system research project, which Dr. Neumann helped lead from 1965 to 1969. An early Pentagon-financed design effort, Multics was the first systematic attempt to grapple with how to secure computer resources that are shared by many users. Yet many of the Multics innovations were ignored at the time because I.B.M. mainframes were quickly coming to dominate the industry.
Dr. Neumann grew up in New York City. Dr. Neumann’s father, was a noted art dealer, first in Germany and then in New York, where he opened the New Art Circle gallery after moving to the United States in 1923. Dr. Neumann recalls his father’s tale of eating in a restaurant in Munich, where he had a gallery, and finding that he was seated next to Hitler and some of his Nazi associates. He left the country for the United States soon afterward.
His mother, Elsa Schmid Neumann, was an artist. His two-hour breakfast with Einstein took place because she had been commissioned to create a colorful mosaic of Einstein and had become friendly with him. The mosaic is now displayed in a reference reading room in the main library at Boston University.
Dr. Neumann’s college conversation was the start of a lifelong romance with both the beauty and the perils of complexity, something that Einstein hinted at during their breakfast.
“What do you think of Johannes Brahms?” Dr. Neumann asked the physicist.
“I have never understood Brahms,” Einstein replied. “I believe Brahms was burning the midnight oil trying to be complicated.”
6. Work in small groups (A+B). Share the information you obtained about Dr. Neumann. Create his profile as a scientist. Which science gave him most inspiration?
7.Study the following quotes about science and scientists. Do any of the authors’ names seem familiar? Which one would you agree with, without hesitation? Give reasons.
· There is a single light of science and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere. ( Isaac Asimov )
. The science of today is the technology of tomorrow. (Edward Teller )
· Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. ( Albert Einstein )
· What is a scientist after all? It’s a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know, what’s going on. (Jacques Yves Cousteau )
· Science investigates, religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power, religion gives man wisdom which is control. ( Martin Luther King, Jr. )
· Science has made us gods even before we are worthy of being human. ( (Jean Rostand )
· Men love to wonder, and that’s the seed of knowledge. ( Ralph Waldo Emerson )
· All science is either physics or stamp collection. ( Ernest Rutherford ) – just for fun…
8.Work individually. Choose one of the above quotations and write an explanation to it. And, please, remember not to try to be complicated.
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