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Volume 5, Issue 491: Monday, May 5, 2003
- "Software Bullet Is Sought to Kill Musical Piracy"
New York Times (05/04/03) P. A1; Sorkin, Andrew Ross
The music industry is clandestinely developing a barrage of technical weapons to use against online music pirates, including programs that freeze users' computers, slow their Internet connections, and perform seek-and-destroy searches on their hard drives. All of the five major record labels are funding efforts at a handful of small technology firms, and deployment seems more likely now that a federal court ruled that peer-to-peer file-sharing companies Grokster and StreamCast Networks are not liable for illegal online sharing. Experts and industry officials say not all of the technical measures being developed will actually be used, but the industry has been trying out new methods, such as an instant message broadcast sent to millions of peer-to-peer users warning about legal consequences to music piracy. Madonna incited a hack attack on her Web site when fake versions of her new songs made the rounds on peer-to-peer networks--the hackers briefly made available real versions of the songs on the site. Last year, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) was fiercely attacked by privacy advocates for introducing a bill legalizing copyright protection measures online. Experts say existing computer hacking and wiretap laws are ambiguous and threaten the music industry with legal repercussions. Techniques under development include a Trojan horse that redirects users to Web sites where they can purchase the songs they attempted to download; "freeze" programs that lock up a computer for a certain interval, which could cause the loss of data; and interdiction, in which personal Internet connections are besieged to prevent someone from using a network to download or distribute pirated music. ISPs, meanwhile, are concerned that anti-piracy programs could interfere with network connections.
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- "High-Tech Hardships"
San Antonio Express-News (05/04/03); Nowlin, Sanford
The H-1B program, which Congress expanded three years ago to alleviate a shortage of high-tech workers due to the industry boom, has come under fire since the tech implosion and massive cost-cutting layoffs of domestic employees. "The H-1B program allows employers to cut Americans off the payroll who are making $90,000 or $100,000 a year and replace them with foreign workers making $30,000 to $40,000," laments unemployed fiber-optics engineer Gene Nelson, who was dismissed from Genuity while H-1B visa holders were retained. "When you think about what happens when this is taken to their logical extreme, it's something that will destroy our economy." Supporters of the H-1B program assert that it has built-in rules that prevent employers from replacing U.S. workers with foreign talent, and insist that fewer visas have been authorized because of the economic slump; they also argue that disbanding the program would inhibit the U.S. tech industry's competitiveness against overseas rivals by blocking access to much-needed talent. H-1B critics contend that companies exploit immigrants' dependence on staying employed to remain in the United States to make them work long hours, and add that such abuses are rarely probed by federal authorities. Worker organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA are urging Congress to allow the yearly H-1B visa cap to revert from 195,000 to 65,000 on Sept. 30, especially in light of current unemployment levels; the tech industry is expected to oppose such a development. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) plans to propose a new H-1B cap, and says that H-1B is necessary for the country to stay competitive while it rebuilds its homegrown tech workforce. Without such a program, U.S. tech employers could be forced to export more jobs overseas, worries Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati.
- "Server Makers Tout InfiniBand Sequel"
CNet (05/05/03); Shankland, Stephen
Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) is a slower, albeit cheaper, alternative to the InfiniBand high-speed networking technology that IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and others are developing so that high-end database servers can be assembled from low-end components based on TCP/IP and Ethernet standards. As with InfiniBand, RDMA could boost the viability of a "scale-out" strategy in which servers are built from inexpensive machines linked by high-speed connections. RDMA will succeed or fail in the mainstream depending on how well it deals with latency, the delay caused by a data request passing through the operating system and other software layers. Significant events in RDMA development include the RDMA Consortium's release last week of the second of three sets of RDMA hardware and software inclusion standards, while Microsoft will announce further RDMA support Wednesday at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference. The planned disclosure will include how critical the technology is to fully leveraging 10-gigabit Ethernet networks and how it supports Microsoft's Chimney program, which aims to make TCP/IP offload engines easy to use. HP's Karl Walker says his company thinks commercial RDMA-enabled products will be on the shelves next year, while IBM's Tom Bradicich believes 2004 will see the arrival of 10-gigabit Ethernet delivered by copper wires, with RDMA product deployment expected for the following year. Meanwhile, he thinks the market will be exclusively InfiniBand's province for a minimum of 18 months while RDMA is finalized. Bradicich and Walker say that pioneering work by InfiniBand engineers is chiefly responsible for a great deal of RDMA technology, while the RDMA Consortium expects to eventually pass standardization off to the Internet Engineering Task Force.
- "Finding Solution to Secret World of Spam"
New York Times (05/05/03) P. C8; Hansell, Saul
Tracking down senders of spam is a difficult proposition, given that most bulk emailers transmit their messages under false names and addresses to thwart authorities. America Online, the Direct Marketing Association, and others claim that some 150 to 200 spam "kingpins" are chiefly responsible for the most egregious kinds of spam, and are calling for harsh penalties and tough anti-spam laws that target this network. "We think we need a very vigorous effort to root these people out," declared DMA President H. Robert Wientzen at a recent spam forum sponsored by the FTC. Other groups want to give marginal spammers, such as teenagers and legitimate businesses, no choice but to only send legitimate emails by enforcing disclosure rules contained in legislation supported by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). Schumer's proposal would require spammers to identify messages as spam by including the term "ADV" in the subject line (a provision in many state anti-spam laws), while the FTC would build a national registry of people who do not wish to receive spam; however, FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris doubts that such a registry will be an effective spam deterrent. Still others want to ban all spam that is not requested by recipients, but such a proposal has little support in Congress or state governments. Meanwhile, Paula Selis of the Washington State Attorney General's Office argued at the FTC spam summit that individuals should be allowed to sue companies that send them email that they do not want. "We are at a tipping point with spam," declared David Sorkin of the John Marshall Law School at the summit. "But, with the bills we see now, I fear we will be on the wrong side of the cow."
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- "Intel to Release Machine Learning Libraries"
New Scientist (05/02/03); Knight, Will
Intel plans to release a series of Bayesian network software libraries at the Neural Information Processing Systems 2003 conference on June 6. It is hoped that the release will enable software developers to incorporate improved machine learning capabilities into their programs. Such programs would be able to dynamically learn through the continuous modification of probabilities via a resolute set of rules. The libraries will make the most of microprocessor hardware from Intel, allowing programmers who lack extensive machine learning knowledge to take advantage of Bayesian networks and build software with improved efficiency. Intel development team leader Gary Bradski says the libraries could be applied to data-mining, robotics, computer vision, diagnostics, bioinformatics, and decision-making systems. Programs that already make use of Bayesian networks include applications for identifying unsolicited commercial email by studying previous messages labeled as legitimate or illegitimate. The wide employment of Bayesian networks for machine learning has been impeded because the method is computationally intensive, but Bradski says the newest desktop computers have sufficient power to support that level of computation. "A standard software library has yet to emerge, and once one emerges I think that it will be widely used," says Bayesian networks expert Michael Jordan of the University of California at Berkeley.
- "International Backlash"
IDG News Service (04/28/03); Ferranti, Marc
Changes may be in store for the way in which IT services and back-end business processes are outsourced as advocates of IT workers in the United States and Europe increase their pressure on government officials to support the local job market. Companies have increasingly shipped their software development and business processing needs offshore as a way to lower their operational costs. IT worker advocates do not necessarily have a problem with such a business strategy, which has resulted in worker permit schemes, but say they are very concerned about improving the job outlook for IT workers. Offshore outsourcing of IT work has become a larger issue of late because economies are slowing down, which means it is becoming increasingly difficult for IT workers to find jobs. But there was not as large an outcry over offshore outsourcing when the economies were more brisk because many IT workers were able to find new jobs rather quickly. In the United States, several states plan to follow the lead of New Jersey State Sen. Shirley Turner (D) by introducing legislation that limits state contracts to workers who are U.S. citizens or legal aliens--unless no other candidates with the required skills can be found. And in April, an executive for i-flex Solutions was arrested in London over allegations of violating visa regulations in the Netherlands. "We may see more nontariff barriers to [IT] service exports because of large unemployment in Europe and the U.S.," says Arun Shourie, minister for communications and information technology for India, which is a major target market for U.S. and European offshore outsourcing business.
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- "New Century Will Develop Language Capabilities Critical to Nation's Security"
AScribe Newswire (05/01/03)
Human computer interaction and machine (computer) translation will be among the focuses of research at the Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL), a new collaborative federal research facility at the University of Maryland's new 130-acre research park. Plans call for CASL to address the nation's demands for language capabilities, with researchers studying the numerous factors that impact how languages are used and learned. "The new center will draw upon the university's great strengths in applied, computational and theoretical linguistics, as well as in other cognitive science disciplines, providing research and development that is vital to the nation's security," says Richard Brecht, who directs the University of Maryland's National Foreign Language Center and who will head CASL. Brecht says CASL comes as a result of the U.S. intelligence and military communities' recognition of a need for people and technologies capable of interpreting, analyzing, and communicating in languages that impact national security. CASL research will cover the use of specific tools and technologies by government language professionals and ways to improve the tools and technologies.
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- "Technology Now Being Tested Could Integrate Cellular and Wi-Fi Networks"
Seattle Times (05/05/03); Gohring, Nancy
Efforts are underway to develop technologies that merge cellular and Wi-Fi networks; integrating the networks would enable users to seamlessly take advantage of both Wi-Fi's small-area networks and cellular's wide-area connectivity. As demand for 2.5G network service has proven tepid, cellular carriers hope that allowing seamless integration with the Wi-Fi technology many already use will prove valuable. Cellular firms such as T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless are teaming with Wi-Fi service firms such as Boingo and Wayport on seamless roaming agreements, so that users would be able to use the same device to tap both Wi-Fi and cellular networks. The industry is also investigating voiceover IP for making phone calls over Wi-Fi connections. That technology, coupled with network technology that allows the seamless transfer of applications, would switch people's calls from cellular to Wi-Fi as they enter a dense building, for example. Another selling point of converged wireless coverage is combined billing and joint service discounts, though other industry experts warn that users may dispute being switched from less expensive Wi-Fi connections to cellular networks without notice. Other companies, such as RovingIP.net point out the larger opportunity available in not only allowing roaming between cellular and Wi-Fi, but between different Wi-Fi service providers. Wi-Fi and cellular convergence could mean problems for mobile devices since Wi-Fi service quickly drains batteries.
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- "Chairman Leads Surprisingly Vigilant FTC"
SiliconValley.com (05/04/03); Gillmor, Dan
FTC Chairman Timothy Muris appears to be quelling many critics who thought the vigilance of the commission, under his direction, would take a back seat to business concerns, writes Dan Gillmor. Muris' zealousness is demonstrated by the more proactive strategy the FTC is following through such initiatives as the national telemarketing "do not call" list to be enforced this summer; the pursuit of consumer fraud cases, such as those involving 57 alleged Web auction scammers; a two-day "spam summit" where leading figures in the technology, policy, and marketing sectors convened to discuss ways to deal with unsolicited commercial email; and an antitrust trial against Rambus, which the FTC has accused of trying to dominate a major portion of the computer memory business through fraudulent practices. Muris asserts that he takes a mainstream view of antitrust, and advocates that "the heart of antitrust is stopping agreements among competitors." Nor does he rule out the violation of antitrust laws by individual businesses that attempt to obstruct competition or get an unfair advantage by abusing government rules. Muris notes that FTC-sponsored studies and events such as the spam study are supposed to cement the agency's leadership "in providing information and research to Congress and the public." The FTC is also enforcing rules against identity theft and other kinds of privacy violations more aggressively, though it is unlikely that the effort will significantly impact the problem, according to Gillmor.
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- "Next-Generation Data Storage Gets Interesting"
NewsFactor Network (05/01/03); Brockmeier, Joe
Forthcoming and already available storage technologies boast features that aim to embed intelligence in storage networks so that companies can better comply with regulations and align data management to business goals. International Data (IDC) research director Charlotte Rancourt expects several vendors to roll out commercial Internet SCSI (iSCSI) products in the next year, while Sun Microsystems' James Staten believes the technology will make a splash "in low-end, small business, [Microsoft] Windows-dominant areas." He notes, however, that many companies lack the 1-gigabit Ethernet infrastructure iSCSI requires, though Ethernet's transition to 10-gigabit in 2005 should give the technology a push. Advanced technology attachment (ATA) drives can now move beyond the desktop thanks to speed and capacity upgrades, and Rancourt expects them to become more prevalent in vendors' midrange offerings. Genevieve Sullivan of Hewlett-Packard's Network Storage Solutions notes that storage virtualization allows single-interface storage environment management and maintenance, and says that vendors aim to move the technology's intelligence component from storage devices into network switches in order to alleviate performance difficulties. EMC technology analysis director Ken Steinhardt believes it will become critical for storage vendors to offer products that can help companies "meet compliance requirements that regulatory bodies assign without going through difficult personnel challenges." Rancourt does not foresee the emergence of new storage competitors because of "prohibitive" entry hurdles, and doubts that any players will dominate the market.
- "Intel Teaches Computers to Lip-Read"
VNUNet (04/29/03); Dhanendran, Anthony
Intel's Audio Visual Speech Recognition software is an open-source speech recognition program that uses face detection algorithms from the company's OpenCV computer vision library to read lips in an effort to improve the accuracy of speech recognition programs. The software tracks mouth movements in a process similar to human lip reading, and was designed to boost the efficacy of voice-recognition systems in noisy environments. Intel's Justin Rattner, director of the company's Microprocessor Research Labs, says, "Intel wants to develop technology that allows computers to interact with the world the way humans do."
- "The Grammar of Sound"
Technology Review (04/30/03); Harney, John
Fast-Talk Communications, a spinoff out of Georgia Tech, has developed a new way to search audio files by parsing sound instead of text. While finding a term in audio files usually means text transcription and tagging phrases or words, Fast-Talk's technology bypasses that complicated process by allowing people to search according to sound. Co-founder Mark Clements says users type in the phonemes that make up the sound they are looking for. For an audio file discussing World War II, for example, people could find the word "Sudetenland" by typing in the phonetic equivalents "Sue," "Dayton," and "land." Clements says the technology can search 30 hours of audio in just one second. Forrester analyst Dan Rasmus says the technology promises to unlock new resources for companies. Clements says it has other advantages over speech recognition besides time-savings, including the ability to search independent of a predescribed lexicon, as is the case with speech-recognition systems. On the other hand, users cannot search terms for relevancy or proximity to other terms because there is no metadata describing the audio. Clements says Fast-Talk's product could also be used to manage voice mail such as email, or in call centers where managers can track all mentions of a certain product; television and radio stations could also use the technology to search their archives.
- "Technology Takes to the Road"
ZDNet AnchorDesk (04/23/03); Nadel, Brian
Cars and driving are undergoing a metamorphosis thanks to advanced technologies being incorporated into automotive systems, including enhanced navigation, damage avoidance, and entertainment. Audi's drive-by-wire throttle improves engine responsiveness by using a pedal sensor to instruct the engine computer exactly how much air, fuel, turboboost, and spark-plug timing are needed. Many high-end cars feature Tiptronic transmission systems, which eliminate the need for hydraulic gear shift and can alert drivers when the shift is potentially damaging; meanwhile, electronic all-wheel drive allows traction to be more flexible. Technologies designed to ease driving, boost safety, and prevent vehicle theft include a night vision system for Cadillacs, gyroscopic headlights from Mercedes, sensor-based tire leakage detection and alert in the Infiniti Q45, and transponder-equipped keys to ensure that only the vehicle's owner can get inside. Car makers are adding GPS connections so that vehicles can map out both location and destination, and voice recognition systems that allow temperature and other controls to be activated vocally; meanwhile, drivers can ask for directions or summon an ambulance via a data and voice link to the OnStar network. Entertainment aficionados should be impressed by such innovations as stereos that can pick up satellite broadcasts or download multiformat audio files, and mobile movie machines. Other future automotive design improvements could include snap-on bodies, TV cameras that eliminate blind spots, joysticks instead of steering wheels, electrical batteries, and clean-burning, hydrogen-based fuel. The many individual controllers in today's models will likely be replaced by one control computer and a rolling local-area network with fiber-optic cables.
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- "The Congressional Corral"
IEEE Spectrum (05/03); Samuelson, Pamela
Legislation not only threatens to restrict the way consumers use technology, but the development of technology itself. The music and movie industries prompted legislation from Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) last year that would have mandated "standard technical measures" to prevent illicit copying of digital materials. While that proposal is dead, discussions have moved from the legislative scene to back-room negotiations between the entertainment and consumer electronics industries, and the movie industry is pursuing similar requirements for digital TV broadcasts. Philips Electronics North America opposes the measure, now under study by the FCC, because it "would require the FCC to impose an invasive regulatory regime affecting virtually all consumer electronics devices and computer equipment within the home network," according to the company. The consumer electronics industry has set technical standards in the past meant to protect copyrighted material, such as the content scramble system for DVDs. Such industry standards have been implemented without legislation and without input from users. These and other digital rights management technologies are legally enforced by measures such as the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Audio Home Recording Act in the United States and the European Union directive on copyright and the information society. These and other laws of different nations make it illegal to circumvent technical copyright protection measures with varying exceptions for reverse-engineering, academic study, and personal non-infringing use. Legislation has also recently been introduced counteracting or limiting previous laws, such as a fair-use circumvention proposal from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
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- "Wanted: More Wi-Fi Waves"
Electronic Business (04/15/03) Vol. 29, No. 5, P. 13; Harbert, Tam
Telecommunications analysts say Starbucks, McDonald's, Borders, and many others are making Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) ubiquitous, but they are concerned that a lack of spectrum availability will stunt the growth of the emerging market. The Precursor Group's Rudy Baca says interference has become an issue with Wi-Fi because there have been cases when using Wi-Fi devices has caused other consumer electronics products to shut down. Wi-Fi advocates are calling for a larger portion of the airwaves for Wi-Fi because it does not have enough room in the 4.8 GHz swath of spectrum and the 2.4 GHz band, which it has to share with Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, cordless phones, baby monitors, garage door openers, and industrial, scientific, and medical devices. Wi-Fi experts say the performance of Wi-Fi suffers when the spectrum encounters a surge in usage. The FCC responded last November by seeking public comment on a recommendation to allow unlicensed devices to operate in licensed bands, as well as in March, by issuing a notice of inquiry on the possibility of issuing receiver standards that would improve the interference-tolerance levels of equipment. "I'd be very surprised if we don't see some action on receiver standards this year," says Baca, who adds that FCC engineers are optimistic about freeing up more spectrum this way. Members of Congress also took up the issue in January when Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) and George Allen (R-Va.) introduced legislation that would make some 255 MHz in the 5 GHz band available for Wi-Fi.
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- "The State of Embedded Speech"
Speech Technology (04/03) Vol. 8, No. 2, P. 16; Frostad, Kathy
The importance of embedded speech technology, in which speech recognition, text-to-voice (TTV), speaker identification, speaker verification, and other tasks can be performed on a single device, is growing thanks to the same computing power advancements that fueled server-side speech in the late 1990s. Embedded speech products are mostly specific to applications and devices; these devices perform all speech processing functions while server-based speech relies on a network connection to provide those same functions. Embedded speech is being driven by sophisticated hardware such as application-specific integrated circuits, speech chips, and high-function, low-power chips that are helping lower development costs, while voice signal processing software is also benefiting the technology. Furthermore, vendors are exploiting complementary technologies, including Distributed Speech Recognition and customized, animated 3D characters displayed on screens. The three primary markets for embedded speech products are the appliances, automotive, and toys and games sectors. The growth of the applications sector is being spurred by telephones, and analysts believe that users who access the Internet and Web-based services through mobile devices will outnumber those who use PCs by 2004. Automobile manufacturers are taking advantage of embedded speech to enhance navigation systems and other vehicle operations, and Voice Information Associates expects this sector to experience the most growth. Most embedded speech products for the toys and games sector have been restricted to dolls and diaries, but recent innovations could lead to more advanced toy robots that entertain children while performing household chores.
- "Six Technologies That Will Change the World"
Business 2.0 (05/03) Vol. 4, No. 4, P. 116; Pescovitz, David
Of six potentially revolutionary technologies, the most visionary are products of academic research. Cynthia Breazeal of MIT's Robotic Life Group is developing sociable robots that could one day perform tasks that rely on expressive communication--babysitting, elderly care, companionship, etc.; the technology's advancement depends on improvements to sensors, actuators, and natural language and gesture processing, as well as the inclusion of "theory of mind" so that robots can intuit human actions better. Kris Pister of the University of California, Berkeley, is focused on networks of pervasive robots, and one of his biggest breakthroughs is "smart dust motes." Such devices could have a wide range of uses, including supply-chain monitoring, tracking of troop movements, and keeping tabs on energy consumption. With funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, (DARPA) Paul Ronney of the University of Southern California and Sossina Haile of Caltech are developing more compact and efficient fuel cells through such innovations as the solid oxide fuel cell and the "Swiss roll" heat exchanger; potential benefits include longer cell phone battery life and laptops that run for hours on a small amount of liquid fuel. Thin, flexible computer displays are the goal of John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has built organic thin-film transistors (OTFTs) out of carbon-based semiconductors, which can be deposited on flexible substrates. Clemson University's Thomas Boland is developing ink-jet printers that dispense a culture of cells, growth factors, and degradable gel that could form the basis of a machine that "prints" living organs. Finally, business travel could be revolutionized with a supersonic jet designed by Raytheon engineers Kimberly Ernzen and Cathy Downen.