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 HP or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 5, Issue 492: Wednesday, May 7, 2003
- "U.S.-Singapore Trade Pact Echoes DMCA"
CNet (05/06/03); McCullagh, Declan
The U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA)--the first such agreement between the United States and an Asian nation--carries provisions similar to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), in that they ban the unauthorized circumvention of copy-protection technologies, as well as the distribution of hardware or software that bypass them. At an official ceremony to mark the accord's signing on March 6, President Bush declared that the measure will create new jobs and business opportunities for both nations, and insisted that the two countries are "working together to meet the threats of a new era, and...share a belief in the power of free enterprise and free trade to improve lives." Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong noted that other FTAs can use the agreement as a template. The FTA also loosens export controls and forbids the taxation of digital goods sold over the Internet. Furthermore, only Singaporeans with validated licenses will be allowed to manufacture optical disks, and it is illegal to "willfully...receive or further distribute an encrypted program-carrying satellite signal that has been decoded without the authorization of the lawful distributor of the signal." A trade association coalition that includes the Business Software Alliance, the Information Technology Association of America, the Electronic Industries Alliance, and the Semiconductor Industry Association announced their support for the U.S.-Singapore FTA and urged its congressional approval in a joint statement. Asia is notorious for being a major center of digital piracy: the Motion Picture Association of America said in March that Asia-based countries with weak copyright laws are home bases for gangs of software and movie counterfeiters.
- "Tech Hiring to Remain Stagnant, Studies Say"
Washington Post (05/06/03) P. E1; McCarthy, Ellen
Hiring managers polled by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) announced that they expect to swell their workforce by less than 500,000 this year, compared to the 1.1 million new jobs they planned to create last year, according to a study released yesterday. Meanwhile, a Deloitte & Touche survey of over 200 chief executives of rapidly growing tech companies found that although 81 percent of respondents plan to recruit new employees, nearly 50 percent of that number expect to hire less than 25 workers; 19 percent anticipate no hires whatsoever, and 3 percent are expecting firings. The ITAA study finds that 22 percent of large IT firms have already transferred work to offshore outsourcers, while 15 percent of all tech companies have yet to decide about outsourcing operations over the next 12 months; Forrester Research anticipates the migration of 3.3 million jobs to China, India, and Russia over the next 15 years. ITAA President Harris N. Miller said "the lack of business confidence is what's driving unemployment to continue to grow." Miller raised the possibility that a tech industry rebound could occur before next year.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Data Mining Proponents Defend Technology"
eWeek (05/06/03); Carlson, Caron
Federal agency heads reported to Congress on new data mining systems that critics say will unnecessarily sacrifice personal privacy. In hearings before the House subcommittee on technology and information policy, Transportation Security Administration Chief James Loy said the group was developing a next-generation Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening system to replace the current one. The new system would rely on commercially available passenger data to find persons who present more of a risk and tag them for gate searches. Loy said the added intelligence would cut down significantly the overall number of people searched and that personal information would not be stored, but deleted after travel is done. Defense Advance Research Projects Agency director Anthony Tether informed congressional representatives about his agency's pattern-recognition system that identifies potential terrorists in the population. Behavioral data is matched against pre-set patterns based on past knowledge of terrorist planning, intelligence, and scenarios created through war games. Critics say this method will simply target suspicious but innocent civilians, while terrorists will go unnoticed because they are able to adapt and use unprecedented techniques. The House subcommittee will meet again in two weeks to discuss these data mining projects with privacy and personal liberties experts.
- "Study: Working Women Face Technology Gender Gap"
Reuters (05/05/03); Zabarenko, Deborah
A technology gender gap is barring women from competing for high-paying positions, especially those that carry family-friendly benefits such as flexible schedules, telecommuting, and job sharing, according to a report the American Association of University Women Education Foundation released on Monday. The "Women at Work" study estimates that 41 percent of men are studying subjects that will prepare them for a career in science, engineering, or information technology, compared to just 28 percent of women; as a consequence, more men than women can take advantage of family-friendly benefits. Earlier research from the foundation demonstrates that women tend to start lagging behind men in their technology education as early as elementary school, mainly because courses are more male-oriented, according to foundation research director Elena Silva. She also observes that Caucasian and Asian American women have better chances of breaking into high-paying fields than African American, Latina, or Native American women. The report suggests that women and girls in underserved racial and ethnic groups should have more educational access, while awareness of a high-technology education's benefits should be elevated.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Program Lets P2P Users Roam Free"
Wired News (05/06/03); King, Brad
Peer-to-peer file traders now have a new weapon to defend themselves against music labels trying to spy and crack down on their activities: PeerGuardian, a free software application that gives traders a personal firewall that blocks the IP addresses of the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, and other companies that represent the interests of copyright owners. Zeropaid founder Jorge Gonzalez explains that applications such as PeerGuardian have a new relevance in light of a recent court ruling supporting the legality of decentralized systems, a development that has spurred companies to target consumers. Reports also emerged last weekend that the top five record labels are testing technologies designed to block file-trading by freezing up PCs and erasing MP3s directly off hard drives. Over 4 million IP addresses are currently blocked by PeerGuardian, and software creator Tim Leonard notes that the block list can be continually upgraded. Travis Hill of network monitoring company BayTSP says the upgrading feature could also be PeerGuardian's Achilles' heel. David Weekly, the computer programmer who reverse-engineered the Napster software, warns that media companies could be seriously impeded if file-sharing networks embed personal firewall applications such as PeerGuardian into their latest versions and build auto-updates. However, Sharman Networks representatives doubt this will happen soon because firewalls' core technology can cripple email and browser functionality, as well as block advertising pop-ups. Sharman's Kelly Larabee says that later peer networks will probably feature collaborative reputation systems that allow users to evaluate traders and block out snoopers and other traders that are poorly rated.
For information on ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Chips Could Crunch at Light Speed"
IDG News Service (05/02/03); Blau, John
IBM nanotechnology research shows carbon nanotubes can emit light in addition to conducting electricity. The discovery promises more powerful computer chips and communications equipment. IBM manager of nanometer-scale science Phaedron Avouris says the carbon nanotube is the first instance of a molecule emitting light. The tube emitted light at the 1.5-micrometer wavelength, the same wavelength that is already used in optical communications. And nanotubes are much smaller than components in current communications equipment, meaning that many more optical fibers carrying more bandwidth could be bound into a smaller-sized device. Besides communications applications, light-emitting carbon nanotubes could prove the basis for a computer operating at light speed. Silicon, the foundation of today's computers, cannot emit light. In addition, nanotube transistors are much smaller than silicon ones, and many more of them would fit on a chip. The nanotube emitter has a diameter of only 1.4 nm and is configured to a transistor with three terminals. IBM reports that it will detail its research on nanotube light emission in the May 2 issue of Science.
- "UMBC Event Encourages Girls to Excel in Science"
Baltimore Sun (05/04/03); Barker, Jeff
The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMBC) yesterday hosted Computer Mania Day, an event intended to demonstrate how entertaining computer science can be for girls, as well as address the low enrollment of girls in IT studies. Former astronaut and keynote speaker Sally Ride noted that stereotypes that discourage girls from pursuing science still exist, and observed that "More girls than boys start to drift out of the pipeline in middle school." Ride was one of many role models invited to the event to illustrate that technology is not a field restricted to "geeks." Also attending was UMBC student Payal Aggarwal, the recipient of a scholarship from the Center for Women and Information Technology, which was set up in 1998 to encourage more women to pursue careers in technology. National Security Agency college relations manager Ken Acosta was also present to promote job opportunities for computer and electrical engineers, as well as work-study programs for students. Activities that visitors participated in included dismantling computers, inflating hot-air balloons with hair dryers, and electronically recording their fingerprints. The event drew 300 sixth- and seventh-grade girls.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Eyes on the Spies"
Boston Globe (05/05/03) P. C1; Bray, Hiawatha
U.S. sites vulnerable to terrorist attacks number in the hundreds of thousands, and protecting them all from spies or saboteurs would require a new security force. U.S. HomeGuard, conceived by Walker Digital's Jay Walker, founder of Priceline, is designed to provide such a security force by recruiting ordinary citizens with home computers over the Internet to act as watchdogs. These "spotters" would be paid $8 to $10 an hour to review footage of sensitive locations captured by on-site digital cameras equipped with night vision; the sites are normally expected to remain unoccupied, so the footage viewed by spotters would only feature any suspicious movements caught on camera. Spotters would push mouse buttons to confirm or deny the presence of a possible intruder at the site under observation, or to indicate uncertainty. If two or more spotters agree that an unauthorized party is in a restricted area, the footage would be sent to a central security office that would notify the site of a possible intrusion. U.S. HomeGuard takes advantage of digital piecework, a Walker Digital research project to enable people to carry out hourly clerical work on their home computers. Another plus of U.S. HomeGuard is its dependence on widely available technology rather than specialized systems. Although security experts caution that U.S. HomeGuard could be crippled by a cyberattack, either directly or indirectly, the concept has attracted attention from the security sector; former Hart-Rudman National Security Commission executive director Charles Boyd says he considers U.S. HomeGuard to be "interesting and appealing." Some $1 million has already been poured into U.S. HomeGuard research and development, and Walker reports that he would sell the concept to the government for only a dollar.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Will Nanotech Save the World, or Destroy It? Experts Can't Say"
Investor's Business Daily (05/07/03) P. A5; Bonasia, J.
Nanotechnology has moved from the realm of science fiction toward industrial feasibility over the past 20 years, but while investors eagerly inject venture capital into the research and development of nanotech products, scientists such as Foresight Institute Chairman Eric Drexler warn that the technology could have potentially devastating consequences. "We're going to need a tight regulatory regime on these technologies," Drexler said at a recent Silicon Valley conference. "This is of life and death importance, to channel this technology into broad and flexible applications while cutting off the dangerous ones." Drexler predicts that molecular manufacturing, in which self-replicating machines will precisely manipulate molecules into almost any material, will emerge in the coming years. Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson expects the evolution of molecular machines to be a three-stage process: The first stage will be the development of nanotech tools and materials, such as chemical and biological sensors; these materials will be the building blocks for next-generation products, which should hit the market in this decade; molecular machines should finally arrive by 2020. Jurvetson believes nanotech will be especially beneficial in the area of drug delivery--for example, one day nanostructures could be able to treat cancer from inside the human body on a cellular level, eliminating the need for "barbaric" treatments such as chemotherapy. But nanomachines could also be programmed to overwhelm and raze ecosystems via uncontrolled replication. Drexler warns, "If someone makes and programs these devices, they could convert the biosphere to dust in short order." The purpose of the Foresight Institute, which Drexler founded, is to address such abuses before they can become reality.
- "Why Free Software Is God's Gift to India"
Express Computer (05/05/03); Hariharan, Venkatesh
In his address at GNUnify 2003, IndLinux co-founder Venkatesh Hariharan declared that India's adoption of free software, in the form of the GNU/Linux operating system, will open up new opportunities for cultural, political, and economic freedom. He noted that nearly all software applications and operating systems are English-based, while the environments where computers are used are predominantly English as well; yet only 5 percent of India's population speaks English. Hariharan said he found it perplexing that the same country that developed the concept of "0" has until now been unable to build an Hindi-based operating system, and IndLinux chose GNU/Linux because tweaking proprietary operating systems was not an option. He used the address to announce the launch of Milan, the first release of IndLinux Hindi, a version of GNU/Linux localized to Indian languages that aims to "spark off a revolution in computing." Hariharan predicted that, as with the TV industry, market pressures will trigger an explosion in regional-language applications in the Indian computing industry. GNU/Linux allows language localization to be achieved in a more culturally sensitive way than any centralized process; Hariharan backed this argument by observing that 70 percent of the Indian population lives in rural areas, where "desktops" and "files and folders" are mostly unknown, and called GNU/Linux "an ideal platform" for bridging this cultural gap. He added that the openness of GNU/Linux makes it a very appealing choice for a sovereign India from a political perspective, while the platform being freely available makes it affordable for the masses.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "A New Technology, Now That New Is Old"
New York Times (05/04/03) P. 3-1; Lohr, Steve
Irving Wladawsky-Berger of IBM contends that the tech industry has entered "the post-technology era" in which the focus has shifted from the technology itself to what people and businesses can do with that technology; paralleling this trend is a transfer of power from technology suppliers to corporate clients, while increasing dependence on cheaper hardware and software components is allowing more and more companies to collaborate and share data using industry standards. Overall, these developments are making most tech companies more reliant on price and profits, according to industry executives and analysts. Last week's Harvard Business Review featured an article alleging that information technology would inevitably become a "commodity input" like electricity and the telegraph. American Express CIO Glen Salow believes the power shift to corporate customers allows them to influence the price as well as the development of products and services, whereas in the past suppliers viewed clients with a certain degree of disdain. Customers are pushing for computer system interoperability through tech companies' adoption of industry-standard software formats and communications rules, as well as more flexibility in the purchase of computing resources; adopters of the utility computing model include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft. Wladawsky-Berger argues that utility computing well suits the post-technology era, and says, "In the last few years, the underlying components have become so powerful, reliable and inexpensive that you don't have to worry so much about the underlying engine, and you can move up to higher-level concerns." Major suppliers such as IBM and HP, along with startups like Opsware, are working to tackle the computing complexity problem stemming from the Internet by using automated management tools. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison expects innovation to continue despite the industry's maturation.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Linux Desktop Myths Exploded"
NewsFactor Network (05/05/03); Maguire, James
Linux on the desktop offers companies some advantages depending on the particular business situation, but a recent Gartner study debunks many of the myths about Linux benefits. Gartner analyst Michael Silver says he is not against the open-source operating system, but wants to point out that many assumptions about Linux's benefits are false. Linux desktop proponents say shifting from Windows will allow them to use StarOffice and OpenOffice.org applications, though Silver says those free applications also run on Windows. Second, Linux vendors may give away consumer versions of their software, but charge enterprise users for their supported versions and only promise technical support for two years, requiring enterprise users to upgrade or lose vendor support. Management of Linux desktops is technically easier because there are fewer viruses targeting the system, it is more stable, and its file-based roots make it easier to troubleshoot. However, Silver says many companies' desktop management problems are not technical issues, but rather the result of policies and cultures, and those problems will persist whether on the Linux or Windows platform. Linux boosters say hardware is useful longer with Linux and requires fewer hardware upgrades, but Silver counters that supporting many vintages of computers can be costly as well. Finally, although many mainframe support teams are able to adapt their skills to Linux, desktop support teams are often not as well-versed in Linux as in Windows. Forrester research analyst Ted Schadler supports the view that Linux desktop deployment requires contextual consideration, and suggests it will be more popular in dedicated systems, such as point-of-sale units, among small businesses, and with foreign governments suspicious of U.S.-based Microsoft.
- "Offshore Coding Work Raises Security Concerns"
Computerworld (05/05/03); Verton, Dan
IT professionals attending last week's Techno-Security Conference expressed concerned about the security risks of U.S. companies outsourcing software development and other essential IT services to countries where labor is cheaper. Attendees were especially concerned with the outsourcing of IT work to China, which has a reputation for economic espionage directed toward U.S. technology, as well as to Southeast Asian countries that are known to shelter terrorist networks. "Whether you like it or not, our national secrets are already being preserved by people who built these parts of the core infrastructure, and they're not U.S. citizens," conceded Oracle chief security officer and conference panelist Mary Ann Davidson. She also pointed out that there is no reason to think that American workers pose any less of a security risk. Northrup Grumman chief information assurance officer Tim McKnight recommended that companies make a sizeable financial investment to deploy a comprehensive system for ensuring the trustworthiness of offshore outsourcers. As a former security officer at Cisco Systems, he saw firsthand how the company sent teams overseas to monitor outsourcers' activities and carry our risk assessments. Most conference attendees expressed doubt that software companies are able or willing to make thorough background checks of foreign coders. The fact that few U.S.-based companies check the backgrounds of their own staff makes such an attitude typical, said Alta Associated CEO Joyce Brocaglia.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Radio ID Chips to Come With Kill Switch"
CNet (05/05/03); Shim, Richard
Philips Semiconductor, Matrics, Alien Technology, and other manufacturers are expected to debut radio frequency identification (RFID) tags outfitted with kill switches this summer, according to an announcement from the Auto ID Center last week. Although the tags' primary purpose is to make inventory management more efficient and cut costs, privacy groups have raised concerns of what they could be used for once the retail products they are attached to have been sold. Philips' Dirk Morgenroth reports that kill switch-equipped chips will move from the prototype phase to full production by year's end, and adds that the tags cannot be turned back on once they are disabled. Auto ID Center research chairman Sanjay Sarma assures that, should such tags be incorporated into retail products, consumers will be given the option of having the chips disabled when they leave the store. "It might seem that our actions are a knee-jerk reaction to recent privacy concerns, but we have been discussing this for three years," he explains. Morgenroth says the disablement feature should not raise RFID chip costs, but the tags' potential usefulness in the home will make the kill switch an optional rather than standard feature. Philips announced earlier this year that it had marketed RFID tags to manufacturers that would be collaborating with Benetton to incorporate the chips into apparel, which provoked an outcry from privacy groups.
- "Social Software"
Tech Central Station (04/21/03); Kling, Arnold
Social software is likely to be the basis of the next great IT innovation; in the realm of social software, the interaction is not between humans and computers but between the group and the computer. This poses three distinct problems, and a software solution to any one of these problems stands a good chance of becoming the next "killer app." The first issue is the matching problem, which today is solved through gathering the largest possible list of matches and searching through them using key words or other technical criteria. More effective would be a system that creates likely matches through the personal recommendations of those with like interests. The challenge for social software is not to create the most efficient traditional search algorithms, but to build a more effective management system for large social networks. The second problem for social software is the issue-resolution problem, where projects are slowed because expertise is not available immediately. In Afghanistan, impromptu military strikes were completed in just 20 minutes even though a number of different functional lines were involved on the ground, in the air, and in the command center; in the 1991 Iraq war, such coordinated actions took up to three days. Software that can make many business managers throughout a company available without taking them from their primary responsibilities will help speed large corporate projects. The final opportunity for social software lies in the classroom-management problem, where teachers need effective methods to gauge student understanding and instructional deficiencies.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Minding Your Business"
Science News (05/03/03) Vol. 163, No. 18, P. 279; Weiss, Peter
Researchers such as Queen's University's Roel Vertegaal are developing hardware and software designed to mitigate information overload without restricting users' access to data; Microsoft Research's Eric Horvitz expects these projects to yield digital devices that "become a lot less like tools and a lot more like companions and collaborators who understand your intentions and goals." Several efforts are investigating attentive-user interfaces that can respond to a person's bodily cues (eye movements, gestures, etc.) or electronic resources indicating factors such as a person's location or current activities. Daniel Russell of IBM's Almaden Research Center pioneered video camera technology that fixes on a person's gaze, and his lab has included it in a prototype interface that notes what section of a Web page a person is looking at and how long he or she lingers on it; such a product could become a valuable tool for Web-based education--it could, for instance, tutor users better based on its observations. Vertegaal's lab has incorporated the technology into its eyePROXY system as well as cell phones and other devices that can detect when users' attention is directed elsewhere, and store messages and other data so as not to interrupt them. Microsoft Research has devised an enhanced personal digital assistant that collects data from an accelerometer, a touch sensor, and a proximity sensor to determine how mobile users plan to use the device, so it can redirect messages or other information accordingly. Horvitz and other Microsoft researchers are developing software that intuits and anticipates users' activities by studying the data received through their computers and other digital gear. One system they created automatically schedules appointments based on important email. A key component of attentive interfaces is their ability to get users' attention: For example, several research projects include designs for automotive tools that can rouse drowsy drivers by turning on the radio or vibrating the steering wheel.
To read more about Attentive User Interfaces, including the work
by Vertegaal and Horvitz and many others, see the March 03 issue of
Communication of the ACM.
- "The Minister of Net Defense"
Wired (05/03) Vol. 11, No. 5, P. 142; McGray, Douglas
Howard Schmidt, only the second person to have held the post of White House cybersecurity chief, recently talked about cybersecurity measures in an interview with Wired Magazine. He said that a major cyber attack is likely to be highly planned rather than haphazard, could emanate from anywhere, and is more likely to have a regional rather than global impact. He said he worries most of an attack that combines a physical attack with an unidentified vulnerability in a system targeted for exploitation. Schmidt says the technology that oversees banking networks and the Internet are more vulnerable than control systems (such as power grids) because they rely more on open standards. In the event of an attack, private companies would be most likely to spot a burst of activity on some of the primary Internet monitoring points. The next response would be to understand how the attack is being implemented--as a worm or via an email virus, for example. The code would probably have been analyzed within an hour as downstream providers are notified as well as the government, especially the National Communications System and the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center. Schmidt adds that if the Slammer worm had a payload, it could have released other code attacking root-level administration, and hundreds of thousands of systems would have been infected.
- "Patents Go Global"
Technology Review (05/03) Vol. 106, No. 4, P. 55; Schwartz, Evan I.
There are 120 national patent systems worldwide, each with its own criteria, translation requirements, and filing fees, and failing to satisfy most or all of them could endanger a patent's eligibility. Such a task can be prohibitively expensive for smaller inventors, so a single global patent system seems to be the logical solution. Accompanying this "deep harmonization" is the rethinking--and perhaps the abandonment--of long-cherished U.S. practices; for example, a dispute between inventors with similar products could be settled according to which inventor filed his or her patent earlier, rather than which one actually invented the product first. Francis Gurry of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) says that a universal global filing system will not be feasible until the world's three biggest patent offices--the United States', Japan's, and Europe's--can reach an accord. Large U.S. corporations with a worldwide presence favor harmonization, but smaller businesses do not want to lose the right to file patent interference suits; however, advocates cite the investment in time and money to pursue such suits as a further argument for an international patent filing standard. Still, there are signs that the United States is reticent to adopt the first-to-file model: U.S. Patent Office director James E. Rogan remains evasive on the subject of harmonization, while the first-to-invent provision is conspicuously absent from the U.S. agenda at the WIPO summit in Geneva, according to U.S. negotiator Lois Boland. Nevertheless, former U.S. Patent Office director Q. Todd Dickinson says, "A working assumption in Geneva is that the U.S. will have to come around on this issue at the end of the day." Other points of dispute that could hamper the harmonization effort include dissension over what constitutes "patentable subject matter," especially for topics such as software, business methods, and biological resources.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)