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August 18, 2006

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Program Works to Build Diverse New Generation of Computer Scientists
UW-Madison (08/16/06) Mattmiller, Brian

In an effort to boost participation among women and minorities in computer science, the University of Wisconsin is launching a freshman-level program called Wisconsin Emerging Scholars in Computer Science (WES-CS). Working with support from Microsoft and the NSF, Susan Horwitz, associate chair of computer sciences at Wisconsin, designed the department's introductory course to recruit freshmen from underrepresented groups and kindle interest through the use of parallel team-learning techniques. The combined strategy had never been employed in a first-year computer science course, Horwitz said, noting that it is already increasing the flow of students to the department. This fall, the department is expanding its offerings with its First-Year Interest Group focusing on using computers to solve real-world problems, and the "Digital Divide" course examining the impact of technology. Digital Divide is to be taken concurrently with introductory programming. Throughout U.S. research universities, women account for just one out of every 10 bachelor's degrees in computer science, and only about 5 percent of all doctoral degrees. "The numbers are terrible for computer science, and they have been trending downward so far this decade," Horwitz said. "Some of it may stem from the dot-com bust and a sense that outsourcing may be threatening future jobs. But we're actually looking at a huge pending shortage in the computing workforce." The Department of Labor is predicting much greater than average growth for four of the five primary computer science job areas: computer and database specialists, software engineers, support specialists, and computer systems analysts; only programming is expected to have below-average growth. Part of Horwitz's mission has been to evangelize the many practical applications of computer science that have a real impact on society.
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Military Research Aims to Develop Self-Configuring, Secure Wireless Nets
Network World (08/16/06) DeBeasi, Ryan

Researchers from the government, academic, and corporate communities are developing a self-configuring network that could intelligently route and cache data and provide fast and reliable data sharing, while still adhering to the highest levels of security. The Knowledge Based Networking project draws on the concepts of artificial intelligence and the Semantic Web, and technologies such as the Mobile Ad-hoc Network (MANET), cognitive radio, and peer-to-peer networking. While the system is being built for soldiers in the field, the research could also be used in commercial applications. Current wireless technology is more about access than networking, said DARPA's Preston Marshall, adding that eventually a decentralized MANET could come to replace the current model of access points that connect wireless devices to a network. "The thing that's fundamentally different in a wireless environment is that the links are fairly unreliable...nodes join and leave the network more or less randomly," said David Passmore of the Burton Group. MANETs would have no one point of failure, whereas existing networks can be shut down simply by removing an access point. Ideally, a MANET would be able to identify the best paths for routing data packets and select the optimal radio frequency to use through cognitive radio technology. While the artificial intelligence facet of this technology is still being developed, the military is already using the underlying software-defined radios that enable networks to switch signals on the fly. Beyond merely making decisions about the wireless spectrum, Preston envisions intelligent nodes that could automatically optimize the network. Similar to the concept of the Semantic Web, such a network could actually understand the meaning of the data it is transmitting.
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Judge Rules Against Wiretaps
Washington Post (08/18/06) P. A1; Eggen, Dan; Linzer, Dafna; Nakashima, Ellen

The National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless surveillance program to eavesdrop on Americans' telephone calls and emails, ostensibly to uncover terrorist activity, was declared unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor on Thursday. She ruled that the program acts in violation of privacy and free speech rights, the constitutional separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In her 43-page opinion, Taylor wrote, "It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights." Efforts by the Bush administration and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to gain approval for legislation that would permit Bush to submit the NSA program to a clandestine court for legal review could be hindered by Taylor's decision. The judge ordered a cessation of wiretapping, although both sides in the ACLU's lawsuit agreed to wait until a hearing on Sept. 7. National security law experts have criticized the judge's ruling as poorly supported. "The opinion kind of reads like an outline of possible grounds to strike down the program, without analysis to fill it in," said Wake Forest University national security law specialist Bobby Chesney. Republican members of Congress also had harsh words to say about Taylor's decision, with Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) claiming that the deterrence of terrorist plots would be impeded if the surveillance program were halted. The Electronic Frontier Foundation hailed the ruling; EFF has filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T, accusing it of working with the NSA and its surveillance program. EFF staff attorney Kevin Bankston says, "We now have a ruling on the books that upholds what we've been saying all along: that this wiretapping program violates the Constitution."
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Spying an Intelligent Search Engine
CNet (08/18/06) Olsen, Stefanie

While Google has undeniably revolutionized the world of Web search, some technologists believe that artificial intelligence could lead to a new class of even more powerful search tools. These researchers look at Google's breakthroughs, not as an endpoint, but as a jump-off to better and faster applications where a user could, for instance, search for the plot of a novel or retrieve a list of politicians who have made negative comments about the environment in the past five years. Advances in artificial intelligence techniques such as object recognition, natural language, and statistical machine learning could lead to a spate of new search applications. "This is the beginning for the Web being at work for you in a smart way, and taking on the tedious tasks for you," said Medstory founder Alain Rappaport. "The Web and the amount of information is growing at such a pace that it's an imperative to build an intelligent system that leverages knowledge and exploits it efficiently for people." One of Google's major breakthroughs was developing the capability for search engines to efficiently link words by measuring their relevancy to search terms, but they do not understand the meaning of the words. By training computers to see into the meaning of words, they will get closer to human intelligence, whereas today's search engines require people to dumb down their own intelligence to plug in key words that the computer will understand, according to Barney Pell, founder of the forthcoming AI search engine Powerset that is trying to train computers to make inferences about language. Other applications will be able to search based on non-text queries, such as image-based requests like "find a girl who looks like this girl for me on Match.com." The startup that could make that type of search possible, called Riya, uses algorithms to identify the densities, patterns, and textures in a photo, along with many other characteristics. Those properties are converted into a mathematical representation of the image, or what CEO Munjah Shah calls a visual signature of 6,000 numbers.
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Anita Borg Institute Announces Sponsorship for Grace Hopper Celebration
Business Wire (08/15/06)

ACM has teamed up with the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) to organize the 6th Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference. Scheduled for Oct. 4-7, 2006, in San Diego, Calif., the Grace Hopper Celebration is expected to draw more than 1,200 women for a conference filled with plenary sessions, workshops, and technical papers that focus on their research and career interests. The conference is open to female and male tech professionals, academics, and students at the undergraduate level. The largest technical conference on women in computer science has secured financial assistance from 38 organizations, including 17 academic underwriters that will help provide attendance scholarships for more than 200 female computing students. First time corporate sponsors include CA (formerly Computer Associates), Yahoo, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Arrow Electronics. "Our sponsors and underwriters recognize the Grace Hopper Celebration as a prime opportunity to motivate and inspire their own technical women and keep them current with new and emerging technologies," says Charlene Walrad, development director for ABI and the Grace Hopper Celebration. "They also believe it's a great place to influence and recruit new, top-notch technical talent."
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Radical 'Ballistic Computing' Chip Bounces Electrons Around Like Billiards
University of Rochester News (08/16/06)

Rather than pursuing a course of incremental changes to existing designs, researchers at the University of Rochester are rethinking the fundamental design of the transistor in a model they call "Ballistic Deflection Transistor." "Everyone has been trying to make better transistors by modifying current designs, but what we really need is the next paradigm," said Quentin Diduck, the Rochester graduate student who created the design. "We've gone from the relay, to the tube, to semiconductor physics. Now we're taking the next step on the evolutionary track." Individual electrons bounce off of deflectors instead of running through the transistor in a steady stream. Existing transistors will be around for several more years, but mounting heat and leakage concerns are already limiting their performance. The Ballistic Deflection Transistor uses inertia to redirect bouncing electrons toward their chosen trajectory, whereas other experimental single-electron transistors compute by starting and stopping the flow of electrons, just as in conventional designs. By relying on inertia instead of sheer energy, the chip, which could be manufactured using existing techniques, would produce very little heat and be resistant to the noise found in all electronic systems. The NSF has granted the Rochester team, which includes experts in computer engineering, circuit design, computer architecture, and theoretical physics, a $1.1 million grant to develop the technology. The design promises improvements in heat emissions and performance because instead of moving electrons on and off a capacitor, the Ballistic Deflection Transistor uses inertia to direct the electrons and assign their position as a one or a zero. The device is known as "ballistic" because it is made from 2D electron gas, a semiconductor material that enables electrons to pass through without encountering impurities that would slow its performance.
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Internet Domain Agency Renews U.S. Contract
New York Times (08/17/06) P. C5; Shannon, Victoria

ICANN will continue to administrate the global computer network's technical operations through the renewal of its contract with the U.S. Commerce Department. "It certainly demonstrates that ICANN is here to stay," notes ICANN board applicant Kieren McCarthy. The American government's involvement in the administration of the domain name system could continue until at least 2011, since the new contract comprises a one-year agreement renewable for four years. This news is not welcomed by other countries concerned that ICANN's relationship with the U.S. government compromises the neutrality of the global computer network. "To have that central point answerable only to the U.S. government, if you live outside the United States, it is quite bizarre," explains ICANN board applicant Wendy Grossman. ICANN and the Commerce Department are still negotiating the renewal of a memorandum of understanding on their partnership that expires at the end of September, and critics of the memorandum contend that enduring government connections will give America sway on issues such as whether to register a domain name with the .xxx suffix for pornographic sites. "We continue to be concerned about attempts to politicize the Internet and its management," declared Internet Society President Lynn St. Amour at a July hearing to discuss the pluses and minuses of extending ICANN's contract with the Commerce Department.
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Sober Warnings About e-Voting Systems
CNet (08/17/06) Sinrod, Eric J.

In its analysis of three of the most widely used electronic voting systems, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found significant security and reliability flaws in each of them that could compromise the integrity of local, state, and national elections. With sufficient precautions at the state and local levels, the most serious vulnerabilities can be addressed, but few jurisdictions have implemented the necessary countermeasures to shore up their systems. The study analyzed the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system, which directly records a voter's choices with a ballot that appears on the screen; DRE with Voter Verified Paper Trail, which captures the vote both electronically and on paper; and Precinct Optical Scan, which enables the voter to mark a ballot with a pen and then carry it to a scanner. It would be fairly easy for someone to deploy software attack systems to alter vote counts or launch an attack on the system with a wireless device. New York and Minnesota are currently the only two states that prohibit wireless components on all voting machines. The Brennan Center report recommends automatic, routine audits that compare electronic tallies with voter-verified paper records after every election. The report also urges states to adopt wireless bans and randomly examine machines on Election Day for viruses and worms.
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Surprising Search Patterns
Technology Review (08/18/06) Greene, Kate

A team of researchers at Indiana University is challenging the conventional assumption that search engine rankings largely and unfairly dictate Web-surfing activity, directing more and more traffic toward the most popular sites while newer or less popular sites do not have a chance. Understanding the effect that search engines have on people's Web activities could have a far-reaching impact on how future search engines will be built, online advertising, and the development of online political campaigns, according to Filippo Menczer, professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana. Search engines rank results by popularity, which is partly a function of how many links to a page can be found on other sites. Having more linking pages improves a site's popularity, making it harder and harder for new sites to climb up the search rankings. The researchers compared two models of Web searching--one where the user searches only by using a browser, the other only by following links--with actual data about Web page traffic for certain sites and the number of links leading to those sites. They found that normal Web use focuses less on major Web sites than either model had projected, dispelling the "Googlearchy" notion that most traffic is directed to the most popular sites. "This was not what we expected and we were surprised by it," Menczer said. The reason is fairly straightforward: people are using increasingly specific and complex search terms that considerably narrow the results and uncover more obscure pages. "I think the message here is that as soon as you become a slightly more sophisticated searcher, then you're breaking the spell of the Web," said Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a professor of physics at Notre Dame University. Menczer and his colleagues are now exploring the effect that social search and other methods of Web use could have on their results.
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Academic R&D Expenditures in Fiscal Year 2004
CRA Bulletin (08/16/06) Vegso, Jay

Universities and colleges spent $1.404 billion on computer science research and development in fiscal year 2004, according to a new report from the National Science Foundation. The report, "Academic R&D Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2004," found that computer science R&D accounted for 3.3 percent of all science and engineering R&D expenditures by colleges, and 3.8 percent of federally financed R&D at colleges and universities. The top 10 colleges and universities received 51 percent of federal R&D money for CS, while 46 percent of all R&D expenditures on CS came from the top 10 schools. The NSF contributed 40 percent of all federal R&D money for CS at colleges and universities, while the Defense Department contributed 20 percent of the total. The report can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf06323/pdf/nsf06323.pdf.
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Domain Names Can Leave Net Users in Tangled Web, Study Finds
NC State University News Services (08/15/06)

Internet users have difficulty telling the difference between fake Web sites and legitimate Web sites based on the domain names used by the sites, concludes a new study by researchers at North Carolina State University. The authors of the report, professors Michael Wogalter and Chris Mayhorn, provided study participants with a list of 16 organizations and their corresponding Web sites and asked participants in the study to rate the Web sites according to how trustworthy and familiar they were. Half of the 16 listed organizations and Web sites were real, and half were fictitious. Participants ranked eight of the real sites as being more trustworthy than the fake sites, but they ranked three of the fake Web sites as being significantly more trustworthy than the actual Web sites. The participants were unable to tell the difference between fake and real for the other five sites. On average, participants said they would trust about half of the information that might be found at any of the 16 sites; the researchers interpreted this as healthy skepticism. The study found that older participants were more skeptical of Internet information than young participants. "This study shows that people are having difficulty discriminating between Web sites that have a familiar or credible sounding name," said Wogalter.
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Robot Team-Mates Tap Into Each Others' Talents
New Scientist (08/15/06) Simonite, Tom

Researchers in Sweden are giving robots greater flexibility to cooperate with other robots. Teams of robots are usually pre-programmed to work together by performing a specific task, while robots designed by Robert Lundh of Orebro University are able to determine whether another robot has the ability to provide some assistance. For example, Lundh limited the vision systems of two small robots in an effort to get the bots to wirelessly communicate the need to access the others' camera in order to navigate a doorway. "We wanted to have the robots plan for themselves how to draw on their capabilities and those of others," explains Lundh. "Our system allows robots to start with a task, extract which capabilities are needed and find out where to access them." A second experiment saw the robots team up to carry a piece of wood on their heads, relaying speed and direction information back and forth to keep the object balanced correctly. Ken Young, a robotics expert at Warwick University in the United Kingdom, says Lundh has given robots the ability to cooperate the same way a human reaches out to others to take advantage of their unique skills. Lundh wants to test his system in an intelligent home, and enable the robots to make use of cameras and radio frequency tags throughout such a dwelling.
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Girls Learning Technology Is Women's Work, Too
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (08/16/06) Bishop, Todd

This week Microsoft is bringing 73 high school girls to its headquarters for a week-long day camp to boost female interest in computing. DigiGirlz is aimed at changing the imbalance that has led to the 3-to-1 ratio of men to women among Microsoft's U.S. employees. Despite the computing industry's attempts to demonstrate that software is a field with limitless possibilities, girls often eschew technology in favor of what they perceive as more creative careers. Women now account for fewer than 15 percent of university students receiving bachelor's degrees in computer science and engineering. The proportion of female employees in the technology sector drops even further in the executive ranks. Excluding women from the top ranks of corporate leadership is to discard the leadership and perspective they bring as purchasing decision-makers, according to Carolyn Leighton, founder of Women in Technology International. Microsoft is pursuing numerous initiatives to help women rise to leadership positions, including development and mentoring programs, and an internal women's conference. DigiGirlz is another such initiative, and while no alumni has gone on to land a job with Microsoft, two are working there this summer as interns. The program aims to dispel the myth that computers are boring and present technology as a "cool" career, said program organizer Emily McKeon.
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Emerging Field: Bioinformatics
Stanford Daily (08/17/06) Fuller, Andrea

Researchers this week gathered at Stanford University for the fifth annual Computational Systems Bioinformatics Conference to discuss novel methods for computers to help diagnose and treat diseases. The definition of bioinformatics varies among different researchers, said Betty Cheng of the Biomedical Informatics Training Program, which sponsored the conference. "Some use a narrow definition: the collection and storage of biological data, using computers in order to increase the efficiency and scope of biomedical data management, analysis, and visualization," she said. "Others use a broader definition: the development of mathematical models representing biological problems implemented with the best principles of computer science." Cheng cited the use of visualization platforms to model molecular structures, visualization tools for examining intricate biological interactions, and software that can manage vast quantities of data. The field's development is impeded because it is still relatively new, Cheng said, noting that there are still relatively few institutions that grant degrees in bioinformatics. The National Institutes of Health developed a Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Roadmap in 2003, laying out an eight to 10-year blueprint for establishing biomedical computing centers. Eric Jakobsson, director of the National Center for the Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors, stressed the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to biology, noting that if it were not for the infusion of engineering, biological research might have stalled. The speakers discussed their research in the various areas of image analysis and data visualization, simulation of biological structures, and making ontologies accessible and usable.
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Congress Quietly Tries to Craft Bill to Maintain U.S. Lead in Science
Science (08/18/06) Vol. 313, No. 5789, P. 898; Mervis, Jeffrey

As Congress is adjourned for its August recess, a small group of staffers in Washington, D.C., is developing legislation aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness in science. They hope to have it passed before the November elections, though the short time left on the congressional calendar is already very crowded, and, while the Senate leadership says it is committed to the legislation's aims, support among House leaders is tepid at best. The initiative builds on the administration's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), a 10-year program to double the funding at key research agencies. Legislators have introduced a host of bills to increase research and education funding at numerous agencies over several years, which differ from appropriations bills that only allocate funding for the upcoming fiscal year. The bill currently being developed could face Republican opposition due to President Bush's frequently invoked refrain vowing to reduce the federal deficit and the hopes that many lawmakers had to campaign this fall on a record of shrinking government. The administration also wants the Department of Education to be the hub of any changes made to math and science education under the ACI, while many of the alternative bills increase the NSF's role in education. Presidential science advisor Jack Marburger and other members of the administration have been pressuring lawmakers to scuttle the alternative legislation, warning that the programs could "compete with private investment" and "duplicate or complicate existing education and technology programs." Although the prospects of cobbling the bills together into a single, consolidated piece of legislation that could be passed before the November elections are far from certain, supporters take heart in the willingness of key Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) to negotiate with the chairs whose committees must sign off on the legislation.
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Poking a Stick Into the 'Hive Mind'
Newsweek (08/28/06) Vol. 148, No. 9, P. 24; Levy, Steven

In a recent essay entitled "Digital Maoism," virtual-reality pioneer and artificial intelligence scientist Jaron Lanier has taken a pot-shot at what he calls the "stupid and boring" hive mentality that aggregates the millions of Web users and boils them down to the lowest common denominator. The reductive effect of user-generated sites such as Wikipedia and meta-sites such as Digg is a product of a collective consciousness in which the individual is subordinated into an unthinking whole, a loss of expression that brings to mind the disastrous Cultural Revolution that swept through China in the 1970s, writes Lanier. His essay, posted on the Web site Edge.org, challenges the foundation of the ground-up Internet model that forms the basis of Google's search algorithms and the open-source movement. Google scours the entire Web for linking behavior when it is evaluating the relevance of search queries. Open-source software development is predicated on the assumption that a broad-based community approach will generate a better product than leaving the coding in the hands of an elite group of corporate experts. Not surprisingly, Lanier's rant has provoked considerable criticism. "The hive mind can't do everything, but it's not stupid and boring," said author Kevin Kelly. "There's no evidence that it subsumes individual expression." Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales came to the defense of the popular online encyclopedia, despite allowing that it has some egregious imbalances, such as the entry on the "Star Trek" character Mr. Spock, which is more than twice as long as the entry on novelist Gustave Flaubert. Nevertheless, concludes Steven Levy, the grass-roots development of the Internet has made it easier than ever before for individuals, not the faceless masses, to post creative content.
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The Designer IT Guy
eWeek (08/14/06) Vol. 23, No. 32, P. 19; Rothberg, Deborah

Companies still perceive IT as a cost center, and the changing IT environment is driving CIOs to seek "designer IT personnel" whose value is maintained through adaptation in a world where traits rather than skills offer true longevity. Central to an IT worker's chances of promotion is sociability, which helps in his or her being able to make a case for technology to non-technical people. Nowadays certifications are viewed as valuable but not essential: They can be useful as a measure of an IT worker's passion for learning new technology, but an overreliance on them can backfire. Another critical trait for desirable IT workers is a good attitude toward globalization, in light of the increasing importance of global relationships to the market. "For the U.S. to be competitive, they have to tap into global resources, and the technology available today allows us to do this," explains Kirkland & Ellis CIO Steve Novak. "You need to be able to understand what's available and how you go about crafting an efficient use of it." By becoming project managers, project coordinators, and resource managers, IT professionals can make themselves immune to outsourcing. Business acumen is another important trait for a designer IT person to have, as is adaptability to change with a consistently positive outlook.
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Games Get Serious
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (08/06) Vol. 62, No. 4, P. 34; Schollmeyer, Josh

"Serious" video games are on the rise as the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and other groups perceive them as learning tools that can help people deal with weighty issues ranging from first responder training to the promotion of democracy to genocide response. Serious Games Summits held twice a year at larger events such as the Game Developers Conference draw thousands of gamers from all over the world. Serious gaming became high-profile through the efforts of Serious Games Initiative co-directors Ben Sawyer and David Rejeski, who authored a white paper designed to make the policy community recognize that games tap people's instincts for competition, offering players multiple outcomes and urging them to find and develop strategies for success. The next step involved building a serious games community using seed funding from the Sloan Foundation. An example of a serious game is "A Force More Powerful," which teaches users to effect positive social change through nonviolent tactics, using a fictional city riddled with political corruption and repression as the arena. As with the best serious games, "A Force More Powerful" requires users to thoughtfully weigh their actions, as the results of those actions can have serious consequences. The game "Pax Warrior" uses a historical backdrop--the 1994 Rwandan genocide--to assess how valorously the player performs under difficult circumstances. Getting Washington to pledge more funding to the development of educational games has been a tough job for serious games advocates, who face lawmakers' disenchantment owing to the long-delayed delivery of "revolutionary" training and educational software, as well as political backlash over the emergence of violent and sex-filled commercial games.
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