Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Compaq or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 4, Issue 345: Monday, May 6, 2002
- "High-Flying Tech Salaries Come Down to Earth"
SiliconValley.com (05/05/02); Steen, Margaret
Silicon Valley companies are scaling back their employee compensation packages, trimming salaries and eliminating bonuses and other perks. Many tech workers are simply content to have a job, and those with jobs are taking a pay cut, such as workers at Agilent and Charles Schwab. Microsoft recently announced it would cut the bonuses paid to Silicon Valley workers since the area no longer commanded a premium on human capital. Exact figures on new hires are difficult to ascertain because of low overall numbers. But Agilent's Steve Remmel notes that it does not behoove firms to underpay, since they will likely lose important workers once the economy begins to recover. Meanwhile, an ecomonic recovery does not mean that salaries will bounce back immediately. Salaries are a lagging indicator of economic rebound because firms are not willing to spend more just because they are certain that a trough has been reached economically, says Salary.com's Bill Coleman. Still, Salary.com says median salaries declined only slightly in the San Jose area between April 2001 and April 2002, and other analysts say pay scales may be settling at normal levels now that the dot-com boom is over.
- "Cyberspace Full of Terror Targets"
USA Today (05/06/02) P. 11A; Squitieri, Tom
U.S. intelligence officials are warning that international terrorists, some of them directly affiliated with Osama bin Laden, have been plotting terrorist attacks against critical U.S. government and corporate computer systems. Among the targets are major Internet hubs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the financial sector, water-treatment plants, electrical grids, major cities such as Los Angeles, 911 call centers, and public transportation systems. The concerns prompted a recent meeting of federal intelligence and IT experts to discuss protecting key infrastructures. Congress is considering legislation to create a "cybersecurity defense team" and a bill that would exempt companies from antitrust and freedom-of-information laws when sharing information about cybersecurity. President Bush has asked for $4.5 billion in his fiscal 2003 budget proposal to safeguard federal computer networks. Last year, cyberattacks caused about $12 billion in damage and losses, including breaches of a Massachusetts airport and Arizona dam, both of which caused temporary shutdowns. Experts are most concerned about a cyberattack coupled with a conventional attack, which would hamper rescue efforts.
- "Beware of Valley's New Fad: Nanotechnology"
Wall Street Journal (05/06/02) P. B1; Gomes, Lee; Bank, David
Nanotechnology--the creation of super-small devices through molecular manipulation--is still in a very early stage of development, yet advocates are touting it as the next Industrial Revolution and claiming it is just around the corner. The picture boosters present of nanotech and its potential applications has triggered a wave of political funding, conferences, and new startups. Silicon Valley has been searching for a new trend to attract venture capital and bolster its flagging industry, and is eagerly jumping on the nanotech wagon. However, for all the field's hype, there have been no major nanotech breakthroughs as yet. The enthusiasm over microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) provides an object lesson for how the nanotech boom might play out: Nearly 10 years ago, MEMS were promoted as a major industrial trend that would have pervasive applications, but today the technology is restricted to niche markets, according to MEMS expert Roger H. Grace, who says basic science must come first. R. Stanley Williams, who heads a nanotech effort at Hewlett-Packard, is especially concerned about all the hype and its effects on research. "I don't want to see 20 years of my hard work go up in smoke because this gets overhyped, and then later on, people get angry when we don't deliver on promises that I didn't even make," he says.
- "Environment-Friendly Chip Designs in the Works"
NewsFactor Network (05/03/02); Wrolstad, Jay
The Engineering Research Center for Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing aims to devise new microchip fabrication methods that do not put such a strain on money and resources as current techniques do. Researchers from the University of Arizona, Cornell University, MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, MIT's Lincoln Lab, Stanford, Arizona State University, and the University of Maryland are involved in the center. The University of Arizona's Anthony Muscat is concentrating on several projects: One of them involves the replacement of liquid-based chip cleaning with a gas-phase process that involves supercritical carbon dioxide. There is less risk of contamination and less water is used, he explains. "With all-gas-phase processing we can expedite the cleaning process, because you don't have to remove the chip from the reactor, and it is not exposed to air," Muscat says, noting that cleaning accounts for 25 percent of the chip manufacturing process. He is also developing a method to prevent copper transistor connections from shorting out nearby wires by using metal nitride barrier films; the environmental gains include fewer chip-processing steps and the use of less insulation material. Meanwhile, Cornell University's Chris Ober is also working with supercritical carbon dioxide as a substitute for the solvents used during the pattern-etching phase of chipmaking. He says that it would produce less waste and "enable smaller and faster transistors."
- "For Techies, Some Hope Amid Gloom"
Washington Post (05/06/02) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
Almost 530,000 U.S. tech professionals lost their jobs in the past year, representing nearly 5 percent of the tech workforce, according to an Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) survey to be released today. However, the study forecasts that around 570,000 tech spots will be filled this year, indicating that companies will make more hardware and software purchases, thus driving up production and hirings. In fact, experts are concerned that there will not be enough qualified personnel to fulfill corporate needs when the economy recovers, since some firms cut their training budgets to save money and shied away from hiring entry-level workers. The ITAA survey reports that, on a national level, people familiar with C++, Java, or Oracle database technology have the best chances of getting hired. Meanwhile, companies participating in the study say previous experience in the field is critical for finding a new job. Research analysts from various firms offer differing predictions on tech spending: Gartner's Jeremy Grigg expects a 2 percent to 4 percent increase this year, while Rob Schafer of the Meta Group believes tech spending will plateau for the rest of 2002.
- "Quest for More Meaning Online"
Financial Times (05/06/02) P. 9; Poynder, Richard
Tim Berners-Lee's semantic Web is a vision where a new layer is added to the existing Internet that allows computers to perform mundane tasks for humans more effectively, such as searching for arcane information and automating certain tasks. However, some of the requirements for the semantic Web to take off involve a retooling of millions of Web sites' back-ends so that their meaning can be read easily by computers. Software agents, programs designed to learn behaviors and specific tasks, will also be involved. XML, one of the fundamental building blocks of the semantic Web, is already in place as the prominent metalanguage, which allows different coding platforms to intercommunicate. By itself, XML is not definitive, but points to other specific versions of XML, which could in the future be housed online so Web content could point computers to the correct XML definitions. The goal of this technology would be to enable richer experiences with the Web, such as more extensive, automated searches that locate data based on inference. Gartner research director Alexander Linden says semantic Web technologies will likely establish themselves in e-commerce and e-procurement systems first.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "UK Government Launches Artificial Intelligence Drive"
ZDNet UK (04/30/02); Wearden, Graeme
The British government is launching a cognitive computing project that involves collaboration between business leaders, academic researchers, and government agencies. The project will operate under the aegis of the U.K. Foresight program, and will study the latest cognitive systems developments for insight into how business and academia can make the most of this field. "It is vitally important that the U.K. stays at the forefront of developing industrial applications from breakthroughs in science, and new approaches to engineering and technology," declared Professor David King, the government's chief scientific advisor. According to a government statement, the pilot project will focus on how neuroscience could yield benefits to artificial intelligence research. "Connectionist" advocates believe the key to successful artificial intelligence involves creating the computer equivalent of an interconnected neural system. The government statement said the time is approaching when computers, refrigerators, and automobiles will be responsive to natural human speech.
- "Another DMCA Attack Looms"
Wired News (05/04/02); McCullagh, Declan
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) says that within the next month he will introduce legislation that would rewrite section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to permit "fair use" of such digital content as audio CDs even if it means bypassing technological protection measures. Boucher says he now has enough support from people in the Internet and tech industries, as well as librarians, to counter expected opposition from Hollywood studios, publishers, and the Recording Industry Association of America. Boucher wants to make it legal to bypass copyright controls for specific uses, including research, fair use, and criticism.
- "Cyber Scholars"
Newsweek Online (04/30/02); Rogers, Michael
The effects of digital technology and its development have become widespread throughout academia, as demonstrated by the Digital Divides conference at the University of California, Davis. What was once restricted to a small group of university personnel in the 1980s and early 1990s has grown into a field that pervades every department. UC Davis professor Martin Kenney has made the history of Silicon Valley his area of expertise; at the conference, he put forward the theory that the location of Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 sowed the seeds of the valley's success. Meanwhile, UC Irvine's Alladi Venkatesh studies how home networks and wired communities are impacting family life via ethnographic research. Also at the conference was Unicode VP Rick McGowan, whose company is working to code every written language on earth; thus far, Unicode has successfully converted 96 forms of writing, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Cherokee, Runic, and Braille. Converting more obscure languages into computer code, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics and Rosetta Stone markings, may get a boost from academic efforts. Head of the Pew Foundation's Internet and American Life project Lee Rainie was also on hand at the conference to present new findings about the portion of Americans not currently online: 45 percent of that number cite fear and cost issues as reasons they will never go online, while 40 percent claim they have no need of Internet access. Twenty-three percent of the offline population are disabled, while almost 20 percent were once online but decided to "drop out."
- "Time for Physical Sciences to Get Its Act Together, Says D.C. Counsel"
Small Times Online (05/02/02); Brown, Doug
The scientific, industry, and grassroots communities supporting nanotechnology need to become more organized in order to convince Congress that it should pass a bill establishing a new nanotechnology governance body. William Bonvillian, chief counsel to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and one of the main authors of Lieberman's nanotechnology legislation, spoke at a conference hosted by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). The proposed organization would receive an annual budget from Congress, instead of being funded through the Executive Branch--like the NNI currently is--and would have more jurisdiction to set up centers of excellence for nanotechnology, as well as coordinate technology transfers and risk-sharing research efforts. Bonvillian said having a centralized organization would risk tying nanotechnology development down with bureaucracy, but that the potential benefits in strategic focus and political advocacy outweigh the downside. Currently, the nation's nanotechnology effort is extremely fragmented and largely uncoordinated, with relatively little representation in government. Bonvillian said it is important to maintain flexibility within any future coordinating body given this diversity, and that work should be done to open up new opportunities by removing regulatory barriers and making more funding available.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Artificial Voice System Says Hello"
New Scientist Online (05/01/02); Graham-Rowe, Duncan
In an effort to smooth human-robot interaction, Hideyuki Sawada of Japan's Kagawa University is developing an artificial voice system capable of producing more natural-sounding utterances. The system uses a compressed air tank as the mechanical equivalent of a lung, feeding air into a plastic voice-box chamber and triggering the vibration of rubber "vocal cords." The sounds produced are then sent through a flexible silicone tube whose shape can be adjusted by motor-driven rams, thus forming an artificial voice tract. Sawada has incorporated a neural network into the system so that it can listen to its own utterances and learn how to produce certain sounds by manipulating its voice tract. The system has learned a full range of vowel sounds, and Sawada has installed a vent in the resonance tube that makes them more authentic. The scientist will disclose at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation that generating consonants is a more difficult proposition, although the system can pronounce "p" and "t" sounds since the end of its vocal tract is similar to a pair of lips. Meanwhile, Sawada is currently struggling with how to add a tongue to the system.
- "Chapter 12: A Conversation with Howard Rheingold"
Design for Community.com (04/30/02); Powazek, Derek M.
In an interview, author Howard Rheingold discusses the history and future of virtual communities. They predate the Web, going back at least 30 years to PLATO, a community-structured electronic educational resource; Rheingold says that most virtual communities consisted primarily of enthusiasts until the mid 1990s, when the Internet exploded. At the core of the virtual community is a connecting thread, which he describes as "people who have an affinity or a goal in common who can coordinate their communications and activities with others online or on the street." He notes that Web newcomers now vastly outnumber virtual community veterans, which makes the passing on of "netiquette" and online cooperative behavior all the more difficult, the result being an increase of abuse of once-valued public forums such as Usenet. The dearth of netiquette literacy makes the future of the virtual community uncertain, according to Rheingold. Although he would like to be optimistic, he admits that the obstacles are formidable: Many online users behave like vandals, and a massive educational push for netiquette is unlikely. Rheingold predicts that Internet connections will become more pervasive as the use of Web-enabled mobile devices spreads, which in turn will drive the acceptance of the virtual community. He anticipates the emergence of virtual communities that bestow benefits upon people because they allow them to make transactions and conduct other activities in the aggregate.
- "Makers of Electronics Begin to Emphasize Style"
Dallas Morning News (05/02/02); Bajaj, Vikas
Electronics and computer manufacturers are designing more stylish products in order to keep consumers' interest. Technology itself has advanced so far that it is less of a differentiator between devices and allows engineers to be more flexible with the design. Apple's new iPod digital music player and iMac desktop system are in tremendous demand, even though they are a little pricier than similar performing machines, for example. Having a nice-looking device increases people's good feelings toward the machine, says Don Norman, Northwestern University computer science professor and author of "The Invisible Computer." In that sense, whether or not the device actually performs any better may not be the crucial point, he says. Still, design innovation is not an infallible recipe for success, as attested by the failure of computer maker Silicon Graphics, which pioneered colored computers with special branding in the early 1990s. Another example is Apple's Power Mac G4 Cube, which was discontinued after one year because of slack demand for the bulky box. In the end, Norman says digital devices need to be designed around the function they are to perform, and cites the Handspring Treo as an example of a product that does not fit neatly into the PDA or mobile phone categories, yet meets consumer needs with a new, stylish form factor.
- "England Votes, But Not Necessarily at Polls"
Washington Post (05/03/02) P. A23; Reid, T.R.
Britain held its first electronic elections this week for 6,000 city council seats throughout the country, and in doing so is pioneering the use of the latest technology to test e-democracy. Voters could cast their ballots via the Internet, text messages sent through mobile phones, public touch-screen kiosks, or traditional polling stations. Election.com President Mark Prieto says, "What we're seeing here is probably the future of voting." The British government turned to technology in order to boost flagging voter turnout and appeal to Internet-savvy, next-generation voters, as well as to support Prime Minister Tony Blair's push to apply technology to everyday life. Marie MacLean of the national Electoral Commission said surveys found that people did not vote because it was too troublesome to get to polling stations. Voters this week who used electronic means entered in personal identification numbers and passwords distributed through voter registration cards. At least two states in America are slated to experiment with electronic voting this fall for military personnel stationed overseas.
- "Federal IT Spending to Reach $63.3 Billion"
dc.internet.com (05/01/02); Mark, Roy
The federal government's expenditures on IT and IT services will grow from $37.1 billion this year to $63.3 billion in fiscal 2007, generating a compound annual growth rate of 11 percent, Input predicts in a new report. The agencies expected to spend the most on IT include the Department of Defense, the Department of the Treasury, NASA, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Justice, according to the report. These five agencies will comprise nearly 70 percent of federal IT spending in 2007 and will focus on issues such as homeland security and e-government projects, says Input's Payton Smith. These two areas will drive spending in spite of OMB's push to cut superfluous programs and spending, he predicts. An increase in federal spending will have an impact on such sectors as professional services and outsourcing, the study shows. Other factors affecting governmental IT spending include the trend toward competitive sourcing, an IT worker shortage, and the increasing rules and complexity of information operations, says Smith.
- "Universally Connected"
CIO (05/01/02) Vol. 15, No. 14, P. 132; Hapgood, Fred
Practically everyone expects dumb devices such as sensors and actuators to be integrated into corporate networks over the next several years, to the point where IT could undergo a dramatic paradigm shift. Device networking increases efficiency and saves money because the devices can notify the appropriate personnel of changes as soon as those changes register, and increase the flexibility of services. More importantly, the devices can be accessed by anyone in the enterprise, and IT departments can create new applications based on the same peripherals. As a result of this development, NetSilicon CTO Bill Peisel predicts that peer-to-peer will overshadow client/server as a communications model, while encryption will take a back seat to authentication as a security measure. Furthermore, the networks will need to be strengthened and fortified with redundancy and automated maintenance, while payment responsibility for the devices and services may need to be restructured. Network issues that relate to certain jobs could fall under the control of field operations as more devices connect to the network, according to analysts. Although the automation of routine IT support translates into unemployed IT workers, they can take solace in the fact that they could use their training to become support specialists needed to resolve problems with the device networks. Harbor Research and other firms expect over 40 percent of all potentially networkable electronic or electromechanical devices to be connected by 2010.
- "Sensory Perceptions"
CIO Insight (04/02) Vol. 1, No. 12, P. 32; Saffo, Paul; Stepanek, Marcia
Institute for the Future director and technology forecaster Paul Saffo declares that the advent of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), or sensors, will ignite an automation revolution in which more and more tasks will be turned over to machines. He says the addition of sensors to the integrated technologies of computer processing and network access will enable electronic devices to interact with the physical environment on an unprecedented scale, and this will comprise the major technology development of the decade. "The future is...going to be about using machines to talk to other machines on behalf of people," Saffo predicts. He says the revolution has already begun as MEMS are being incorporated into commonly used systems, such as fuel consumption regulators in automobiles and Global Positioning System (GPS) chips in mobile phones; other objects and appliances that could soon boast sensors include grocery items, washing machines, and banking machines. These sensors will be so small and ubiquitous as to be taken completely for granted by their users. Quality control is just one application: For instance, Saffo says a fast-food fryer equipped with moisture temperature sensors could alert managers when they are overcooking french fries. However, the proliferation of all these MEMS will result in a huge glut of information that will require new architectures, and Saffo believes that peer-to-peer will probably become more important as a tool for machine-to-machine communication. Other issues currently being worked out include readying sensor technology for mass production.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Targeting Terrorism"
Customer Relationship Management (04/02) Vol. 6, No. 4, P. 32; Myron, David
The U.S. government has recruited data management companies to help track down suspected terrorists through the use of their commercial data cleansing technology. For example, Vality Technology has developed Veri-Quest, a tool that matches customer records to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control's list of terrorists and criminals at large. Universities are checking their foreign exchange student records against this list, while banks are going through their customer databases for matches. Meanwhile, Experian is touting a service that integrates its data matching and cleansing applications with its credit reports database. Technology may usually be to blame for faulty or inaccurate data, so the industry is starting to see the value in upgrades. Progressive Casualty Insurance, the fourth-largest auto insurance firm in the United States, implemented Experian's customer data integration service, Truvue, to improve the quality and accuracy of customer information collected over its Web site. The move has saved time and money, boosted customer retention, and also made it easier to prevent fraudulent activities. Such customer relationship management (CRM) tools could also be applied to finding and freezing terrorists' accounts.
- "Adaptive Interfaces for Ubiquitous Web Access"
Communications of the ACM (05/02) Vol. 45, No. 5, P. 34; Billsus, Daniel; Brunk, Clifford A.; Evans, Craig
Adaptive personalization technology uses artificial intelligence and statistical methods to automatically determine the personal content preferences of wireless device users in order to increase the presence of mobile access. Considerable user time and effort would be saved by the technology's applications. The technology's success hinges on it being able to infer user interest levels from user actions rather than ratings set by the user. For example, a device that lists a choice of restaurants receives positive feedback when a user calls an establishment or looks up directions, thus raising user interest. Furthermore, the interface should not filter data, but instead display it in a list ordered by relevance. In order to be accepted by users, adaptive personalization must offer a good preliminary nonpersonalized experience that can seamlessly transition to a personalized one; rapidly adapt to shifting interests; not skip over important information or breaking news updates; access information in multiple modes; feature presentations that are not irretrievably changed by single actions; and maintain privacy. Applications that involve long lists of options that users view in subsets, such as wireless classified advertising, online dating services, e-shopping, email, restaurants and entertainment listings, news stories, voice portals, wireless portals, and the wired Web, would benefit significantly from adaptive personalization technology.