Google Makes First UK Acquisition

Google has historically maintained a steady pace of acquiring small, privately held companies and, after a brief lull due to the recession, now expects to be making about one acquisition per month, mainly in lieu of hiring.

In their first foray into the UK market Google has bought Plink, a small company which makes a mobile app that recognizes works of art. Plink was founded by Mark Cummins and James Philbin, both of whom have PhDs from Oxford, and launched publicly only four months ago. According to their blog post announcing the deal they will no longer be developing Plink but instead will be working on the Google Goggles visual search project. The visual search project is a Google Labs experiment that currently runs only on Android devices and lets users search for landmarks, books, documents and other objects by taking photos with their mobile device.

Plink’s app — which is called PlinkArt, and runs on iPhones and Android devices — allows users to get information about works of art. When a user takes a photo of a painting with their phone, the app recognizes it and pulls up information about it. The Plink founders apparently got Google’s attention when they won $100,000 in an Android developers challenge last year. Google Goggles was released last year, and the company has said it plans to support iPhones and other platforms soon as well as Android. According to gigaom, in February the company showed a prototype version of the app doing text recognition and translation of a German restaurant menu.

Cummins and Philbin sign off by saying “The visual search engines of today can do some pretty cool things, but they still have a long long way to go. We’re looking forward to helping the Goggles team build a visual search engine that works not just for paintings or book covers, but for everything you see around you. There are beautiful things to be done with computer vision – it’s going to be a lot of fun!”

Memristors Set to Continue Moore’s Law

When Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev invented the periodic table in 1869 he prophesised that there were four as yet undiscovered elements. Many did not believe him but the four elements he described; scandium, gallium, technetium and germanium were soon discovered, matching his predictions exactly.

There aren’t many who have possessed the ability to so accurately predict discoveries in the future but Professor Leon  Chua of Berkeley College can now be included on the list based, on his prediction in 1971 that a fourth circuit element type would be added to the known three of resistor, capacitor and inductor. This fourth element he called a memristor, because it combines the electrical properties of a memory element and a resistor.

The memristor was first turned into reality by HP Labs in 2008 whose team of researchers led by R. Stanley Williams have now created architectures for memory chips using this fourth element. Because they can maintain their state when powered off, memristors are expected to allow faster and greater storage on a much smaller scale (holding double the data of flash memory) and with lower energy requirements. Unlike flash, which can only withstand around 100 000 read-write cycles, memristors have withstood around a million cycles in lab tests. According to Williams “We will be able to scale faster and farther than flash because the memristor is a very simple structure, and it can be stacked.”

Because memristors can maintain their state whilst powered off they could be used in a new type of computer memory that would replace D-RAM with something that would not require a slow, energy-consuming boot-up process – there would be no need to wait for data to be retrieved from magnetic storage.

Another big advantage of memristor devices is that they will be able to carry out both memory and logic functions at the same time – a lot of computing power and time is currently devoted to moving data between the two. These capabilities are expected to see a major increase in amount of computing power available to handheld devices in particular which would be able to offer 10 times the memory of today’s products and continuing Moore’s law in the process.

HP believes products with memristor chips could become commercially available in the next few years.

Positive Growth in IT Sector

According to the latest Report on Jobs published by The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG there has been further recent growth in the IT jobs market with the worst of the recession having now passed and the number of IT jobs — permanent and contract — rising.

Kevin Green, the REC’s Chief Executive said:

“Permanent appointments increasing at the fastest pace for over 12 years is the clearest sign yet of a revival in the UK jobs market. A rise in both temporary and contract work at the sharpest rate for nearly three years shows how they continue to provide vital flexibility for UK businesses as well as a valuable route back into work for job-seekers.

“However, the overall outlook is tempered by public expenditure cuts which are already impacting on recruitment in this sector. Deep-rooted reforms and innovative approaches to public sector resourcing will be needed in order to maintain frontline services. While high-end sectors such as IT and engineering continue to show strong growth, demand is also increasing for secretarial and back-office support roles.”

Bernard Brown, Partner and Head of Business Services at KPMG commented:

“The UK jobs market seems to be going from strength to strength with permanent job placements growing at the fastest rate for over 12 years. These figures show that private sector confidence is returning and that the UK is exiting recession at a pace. However, a lot of the current hiring activity is going on in the public sector. The public sector recession which clearly is on the cards hasn’t hit the jobs market yet but when it does, the upwards trend we have seen over the last couple of months may come to a halt.”

There was particular demand for business analysts, software analysts, project managers and those with skills in software testing and SharePoint, Microsoft’s collaboration software with many projects that had been put on hold now taking off again as the economy appears to be turning the corner.

One potential fly in the ointment is the forthcoming election which, coming during a time of economic uncertainty, may cause some companies to hold back on IT spending a bit longer.