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Volume 6, Issue 605:  Wednesday, February 11, 2004

  • "Will the Election Be Hacked?"
    Salon.com (02/09/04); Manjoo, Farhad

    The distrust people feel toward paperless touch-screen electronic voting systems is turning into a national movement, fueled by audits from RABA Technologies, Johns Hopkins, and others that uncovered serious flaws in machines from Diebold Election Systems--flaws that not only raise the specter of election fraud, but that have been willfully ignored by the manufacturer, according to internal documents. Reviewers maintain that the flaws could allow hackers to intercept or change votes in mid-election, cast multiple ballots, and commit other kinds of electoral skullduggery while erasing all evidence of tampering, essentially stealing elections without anyone realizing. Diebold has downplayed such vulnerabilities, arguing that studies by the Hopkins researchers and others fail to account for the security safeguards employed by the electoral system. Diebold, however, has come under heavy scrutiny not just for the alleged flaws in its software, but for internal emails that apparently acknowledged security holes and recommended the circumvention of testing authorities; one program manager suggested that Diebold charge exorbitant prices for adding a voter-verifiable paper trail to its machines. Also damning to Diebold is the testimony of Georgia contractor Rob Behler, who described the company as confused, chaotic, and riddled with incompetence and defective products when he worked at its Atlanta warehouse. The ranks of e-voting critics are swelling not only with partisans, but highly respected computer scientists whose clout is influencing public perception. The call to upgrade e-voting systems with audit trails was partly spurred by Stanford University computer scientist David Dill, who organized a petition for voter verifiability that thousands of computer scientists have signed; already critics' fears have sparked politicians to action--California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has called for all e-voting systems in the state to include paper ballots by 2006. Dill is confident that California's actions will inspire other U.S. states to take similar measures, and making voter-verifiable e-voting machines a national priority is the long-term goal for critics of touch-screen systems.
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  • "1980s Technology Propels Mars Exploration"
    Investor's Business Daily (02/11/04) P. A5; Deagon, Brian

    The twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are equipped with 20-year-old microprocessor technology that offers greater tolerance to radiation and extreme temperatures and vibrations common to space exploration. BAE Systems used an early version of IBM's PowerPC chip running at a speed of 20 MHz as the basis for the Rad 6000 microprocessor that the rovers employ; current chips run at speeds of 2 GHz or higher. The rovers' chip is several times larger than the original specification so that it is more space-worthy. "We have to make design changes at the lowest level of a design element for it to survive in space," notes Vic Scuderi at BAE's Information and Electronic Warfare Systems, who adds that the Rad 6000 has become a standard element for computers that function in space, and a favorite for NASA. The rovers' on-board computers boast only 128 MB of RAM for several reasons: The Rad 6000 has less memory requirements to support basic functions than more contemporary chips, while additional memory requires additional power that the rover cannot afford to supply. Spirit and Opportunity use Wind River Systems' VxWorks for their operating system, which was also employed on NASA's 1997 Mars mission; Wind River's Steve Blackman says the space agency opted for commercially available software because it was less costly than designing proprietary software. The Wind River software has found applications in many devices that are highly reliant on system integration. Though the rovers' cameras have much less resolution than current consumer digital cameras, this deficiency is offset by their exceptionally clear lenses. Xilinx also provides chips toughened against radiation that control motors for the rovers' wheels, cameras, mechanical arms, and steering mechanism.

  • "H-1B Training Program to Be Axed"
    Wired News (02/11/04); Glasner, Joanna

    The White House is calling for the cancellation of the H-1B Training Program in its proposed budget for fiscal 2005, claiming that the effort has not proven successful at improving the skills of American workers in specialized professions. Under the program, Americans are trained to fill positions held by foreign guest workers via grants and scholarships mostly funded by fees employers must pay to acquire H-1B visas for overseas labor. The Labor Department says the chief argument for the program's dissolution is visa rule reforms that will remove its main funding source. Congress allowed the annual H-1B visa cap to fall from 195,000 to 65,000, while employers of H-1B workers are no longer required to pay $1,000 for every visa holder they hire. Bay Area Technology Education Collaborative CEO Mike Wilson argues that eliminating the program is foolish, since it helps alleviate the demand for foreign workers by qualifying Americans to do the jobs such workers are being hired for. Workers who recently lost their jobs also extol government-funded training initiatives: U.S. resident Patrick Ronan says the H-1B training grant program helped him find a job installing computers at the Oakland Unified School District following his layoff from United Airlines. A Labor Department representative clarifies the White House's position, explaining that their opinion is not that the H-1B training grant program is a failure, but that thus far nobody has been able to ascertain whether the grants have truly boosted U.S. workers' skills and lowered demand for H-1B visas. Acting president of the Bay Area Council Raul Garcia thinks grant recipients should concentrate on workers who are at risk of being let go in order to more effectively cut H-1B visa demands.
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  • "IT Salaries Picking Up Momentum"
    IT Management (02/06/04); Gaudin, Sharon

    Dice CEO Scott Melland reports that the modest 2 percent rise in technology salaries over the past year, recorded in the Dice Salary Survey Report, indicates a resurgence for tech professionals who have suffered wage drops over the 18 months or so. Government and defense salaries experienced the strongest improvement for the second consecutive year, rising 4 percent to $64,600; computer hardware industry salaries also rose 4 percent to $57,900. The Dice study finds that the jobs with the biggest pay raises over the past year were network and MIS manager positions, which respectively gained 7 percent and 5 percent, while the highest-paying tech jobs matched those for last year, with IT management ($104,000 average) followed by project management ($88,300). "We try to look at this in combination with other indicators, like the number of jobs posted on our site, which has increased 40 percent over last year," notes Melland. He says that 49 percent of 300 hiring companies and recruiters surveyed at the end of the third quarter plan to hire more staff in 2004 than in 2003, whereas 70 percent of respondents to the previous year's survey reported less hiring. Foote Partners President David Foote points out that offshore outsourcing of IT positions means swelling ranks of unemployed tech workers jockeying for fewer jobs. "The big question going forward is going to be if IT spending continues to grow, will outsourcing take up all of that growth?" he comments. However, Foote adds that Bureau of Labor estimates indicate that the rate of tech job growth is outpacing that of offshoring, which should stimulate demand for IT workers and higher salaries.
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  • "Robot Dogs Get Social Conscience Installed"
    Associated Press (02/09/04); Singer, Stephen

    Yale University mechanical engineer and computer scientist Natalie Jeremijenko has spearheaded the creation of "feral" robotic canines programmed to scan for the presence of toxic materials in public areas; the robot dogs also exhibit pack behavior and a social conscience. The robots, which are modified versions of toys from Sony Electronics, are spun off from an earlier Jeremijenko research project that studied the interaction of people and technology. The Yale engineer says using the Sony dogs, given their wide availability, is the most cost-effective strategy for teaching robotics. The dogs feature an upgraded "brain" and nose sensors programmed to zero in on the scent of various toxins; they are also capable of traversing uneven terrain, while researchers can watch how the robots interact with their handlers via cameras packed into the machines' hindquarters. The robot dogs run in packs, and follow the dog whose sensors pick up the strongest trace of pollutants. Some of the dogs have been used to uncover evidence of arsenic, lead, and other toxic substances in the soil of the Hamden area, while four have been checking the former site of Consolidated Edison property in New York. The project has galvanized similar robotic dog environmental studies in Idaho, Australia, and Belarus. Jeremijenko says her project is "part of a larger shift in education: how to apply your knowledge to local problems. It's extremely important that engineers understand the social implications of their designs."
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  • "Privacy Reduction's Next Act"
    CNet (02/09/04); McCullagh, Declan

    Declan McCullagh finds considerable fault with the recently introduced Fraudulent Online Identity Sanctions Act, which he describes as an attempt by the government to penalize domain name holders who withhold contact information from the Whois database, even when such anonymity is protected under the Bill of Rights. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), would add another seven years to the jail sentences of people convicted for providing "material and misleading false contact information to a domain name registrar, domain name registry, or other domain name registration authority." The bill would also benefit the Recording Industry Association of America in its copyright infringement suits, which are asking for $150,000 in damages for each violation. McCullagh acknowledges that the Whois database is rife with fraud, but maintains that Whois is no longer beneficial for domain name owners, especially since current regulations require registrants to enter their full names, their home and email addresses, and phone and fax numbers. He sees no reason for registrants to expose such information to the prying eyes of spammers, direct marketers, and eavesdroppers just for the privilege of owning a domain name, and argues that protecting one's privacy by remaining anonymous or concealing one's identity should not be a punishable offense. An international coalition of civil liberties organizations made the same case in a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in October. In a recent meeting of a copyright subcommittee chaired by Smith, no opponents of the bill were allowed to testify, while advocates endorsing the measure included general counsel for the Software and Industry Information Association Mark Bohannon and the International Trademark Association's J. Scott Evans.
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  • "ACM Professional Development Centre Expands Learning Opportunities"
    ACM (2/11/04); Francis, Caryn

    ACM's Professional Development Centre, launched in 2002, is about to expand its course offerings. On Tuesday, February 17, the number of courses accessible from the Centre will climb from 250 to over 300; all are free to ACM members. New topics will include C/C++, Oracle 9i, .NET, and Flash MX as well as additional courses in some of the most popular content areas---Java Technology, Project Management, and Networking. There will also be new courses in Business Skills, such as Introduction to Finance, Effective Business Writing, and Working on Global Teams. And Continuing Education Units will be available for some courses. To accommodate this expansion, members who have registered for or are currently taking PD courses are asked to finish them by Sunday, February 15, or be subject to re-registering and restarting those courses upon completion of the upgrade. Every member's Course History will remain intact and be available throughout this process. A complete course listing will be available at the PD Centre Web site upon completion of the expansion.
    http://pd.acm.org

  • "Linux Security on the Ropes"
    NewsFactor Network (02/06/04); Maguire, James

    The perception among Linux fans is that the open-source operating system is more secure than Windows, but others argue that Linux will prove to be less secure than Windows if it acquires more market share and thus becomes an even more attractive target to hackers and virus writers. Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff argues that Linux's deep penetration into the server market is clear evidence that the OS is "maintained by people who think about security, hopefully, whereas with desktop users, that's not true to the same degree." Linux's superior security can be traced to its Unix source code, which Paula Hunter of the Open Source Development Lab notes is the result of the efforts of many veteran software developers bringing lifetimes of experience and familiarity with OS security problems to the table. International Data (IDC) analyst Chris Christiansen further points out, "There's a community within Unix-Linux that has grown to increase its stability, where finding a bug is a good thing." Whereas Microsoft customers can only report a bug and hope that the company fixes it in a timely manner, Linux customers can be more proactive, and use numerous strategies to change the software in real time. Their options range from modifying the code personally to asking the distributor to do it to contacting third-party developers. Hunter adds that open-source developers subject bug patches to extensive tests to ensure their integrity. Still, Linux's growing popularity could invite more widespread worm and virus attacks.
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  • "Cyberinfrastucture Poised to Revolutionize Environmental Sciences and Other Disciplines"
    Innovations Report (02/10/04)

    The potential impact of a national "cyberinfrastructure" on environmental sciences and other disciplines will be the subject of two sessions of the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle on Feb. 13, 2004. Two directorates of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which has become increasingly involved in funding and supporting cyberinfrastructure projects, organized the sessions. "New instrumentation, data-handling and computational capabilities will expand the horizons of what we can study and understand about the environment," says Margaret Leinen, head of the Geosciences directorate at the NSF and co-organizer of the two AAAS symposia. Environmental scientists make use of a cyberinfrastructure that includes computation, information management, networking, and an intelligent sensing system for collecting and analyzing data, performing experiments with computer models, and collaborating with other researchers. Computer and environmental scientists will describe how their research is contributing to a cyberinfrastructure and how the technology will transform the study of environmental science in the years to come. For example, Deborah Estrin, director of the NSF-funded Center for Embedded Network Sensing at UCLA, will discuss the use of a network of smart sensors to monitor and collect information on endangered species, soil and air contaminants, medical patients, and man-made structures such as buildings and bridges. The NSF Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure called cyberinfrastructure "essential, not optional, to the aspirations of research communities" in a report last year, adding that cooperation among the physical, life, computer, and social sciences will ensure its success.
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  • "Lofty Goal: Computers People Can Talk With"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (02/09/04) P. C1; Boyd, Robert S.

    Making computers capable of understanding natural language to the degree that human beings can converse with them as if they too were flesh-and-blood is a long-term goal of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Thus far, research and commercial development of computer-language technologies has met with mixed success, with the most progress being made in text-to-speech conversion: AOL and Yahoo!, for instance, offer services in which a computer reads email aloud over the phone, though ASR News reports that 20 commercial text-to-speech products tested in 2003 averaged 66 percent accuracy. Despite such drawbacks, the technology has considerable practical value for visually impaired users. Voice-recognition programs are frequently used by telephone companies, business customer-service desks, and airlines, although their best performance stems from adhering to a restricted vocabulary; available commercial voice-recognition products can take dictation and generate written text, while accuracy rates average between 60 percent and 90 percent. Voice-recognition systems have significant security implications, and the NSF and the National Security Agency are funding an initiative to identify people who speak foreign languages. Machine translation technology has also made progress, although its commercial use is currently limited to niche areas such as hotel reservations, appointment scheduling, and weather reports. Getting computers to understand natural language may ultimately be an unreachable goal, given the complexity and flexibility of the medium. James Glass of MIT says such a breakthrough would make computers "behave more like humans, so that humans don't have to adapt to a machine using a mouse and a keyboard, but instead the machine adapts to the human."
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  • "Neural Software Could Become Soldier's Best Friend"
    EE Times (02/05/04); Johnson, R. Colin

    A real-time advice system for soldiers and other government agents in the field is being developed at Sandia National Laboratories, using neural-network software. The researchers' goal is to build a virtual mentor that can counsel people engaged in vital operations within a stressful environment; the groundwork for the system was laid in a recent experiment in which a collaborative team's biometric data was read to determine the physiological signatures for nervousness, fear, daydreaming, and other mental states. "What we have demonstrated so far is that we can monitor people's vital signs and use a self-organizing map to perceive in the data qualities like leadership," notes Peter Merkle of Sandia's Advanced Concepts Group (ACG). The prototype of Sandia's MentorPal system was built out of commercially available parts and customized software based on networked PCs. Biometric readings such as pulse, respiration, perspiration, tone of voice, facial expressions, and head movements are taken from a wearable network known as the Personal Assistance Link. The ACG plans to enhance the system with an electroencephalogram to link corresponding brain events and social interactions, an electromyograph to gauge muscular activity, blood volume pulse oximetry to read oxygen saturation, an electrocardiogram to calculate heartbeat, and a respiration monitor to determine how deeply and rapidly a person is breathing. Another Sandia program is focusing on the best methodology for providing real-time mentoring, and the insights drawn from this initiative will eventually be added to the MentorPal neural net. The Sandia researchers hope that MentorPal will enable them to diagram the qualities that allow each group participant to give their "personal best" performance.
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  • "The Virus Underground"
    New York Times Magazine (02/08/04) P. 28; Thompson, Clive

    The year 2003 was a banner year for malware, with the release of network worms that spread with increasing rapidity and insidiousness, and such events are putting elite virus writers on the spot. Even though many top virus and worm authors have not technically transgressed any laws and profess to hold no malevolent intent, security experts argue that they are complicit in the spread of malware, even if they never actually release it into the wild. Despite the writers' inventiveness in creating new forms of malware that can be used for nefarious purposes, many claim to adhere to an ethical code and refuse to distribute their viruses onto the Internet, while still others will post virus source code online, where less experienced hackers or "script kiddies" can appropriate it for their own ends. Unfortunately, there is little to stop script kiddies from unleashing the malware, either intentionally or unintentionally. Security and law enforcement experts call this irresponsible action on the part of the authors, and a sign of their ethical naivete: "It's like taking a gun and sticking bullets in it and sitting it on the counter and saying, 'Hey, free gun!'" argues Purdue University's Marc Rogers. Many elite virus writers also reside outside the United States, where virus writing is not against the law, while some U.S. legal scholars claim that malware is protected under the First Amendment, and only becomes unlawful when it is released into the wild and inflicts considerable damage. Virus authors' arguments are being further weakened by recent outbreaks of stealth viruses such as Sobig, which experts say clearly illustrate the presence of malicious creators motivated by greed; these particular viruses or worms are designed to infect vulnerable systems without damaging them so that they can secretly harvest data for exploitation. But it is more than likely that even worse financially or politically motivated cyberattacks are on the horizon, such as "cryptoviruses" that allow users to ransom their victims' files by encrypting them.
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  • "Save Your Software! Recycle"
    InternetNews.com (02/06/04); Boulton, Clint

    Grant Larsen, an engineer at IBM's Rational software development tools division, believes the Re-usable Asset Specification (RAS) for recycling software code is edging toward standardization. RAS, which is expected to be ratified in July following its review by the Object Management Group, will save time and money on software development and allow engineers to devote themselves to other important projects. The specification is designed to take bits of software code and piece them together to form assets, which can then be combined into more sophisticated assets for a "coarse-grained solution," explains Larsen, who also heads the RAS consortium, which counts IBM, ComponentSource, and Borland among its members. He says, "Just like the steering wheel, turn signals and pedals of a car are slightly different across car models and makes, software assets may be slightly different, but will all have an inherent familiarity." Harnessing this familiarity is key to recycling software code. Bundling the code together with code from other systems involves a process of modeling, visualization, testing, and validation. The RAS process could be used, for example, to take code from a Web site and build a better Web site from it. Larsen notes that many software developers can avail themselves of RAS because it is written in XML; furthermore, the specification models predictability, while its use of metadata helps in the profile description process.
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  • "Great Taste, Less Privacy"
    Wired News (02/06/04); Zetter, Kim

    Driver's licenses are being used for more than just identification, given the type and amount of information stored on the cards' bar codes and magnetic strips. The scanning of such licenses is usually a security measure--restaurants and bars do it to spot underage drinkers with fake IDs, while convenience stores do it to confirm the age of cigarette buyers. Bar codes also ease the retrieval of driver information and the notation of citations handed out by police in the field. But the information carried on such cards can also be exploited for marketing purposes, which has privacy advocates worried. For instance, a bar can track how often patrons visit, when they come in, and which ones enter in groups; when this information is combined with sales data, a bar could ascertain which drinks to market to specific groups. Rich Carter of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators says this practice is a source of concern, adding, "The policy is that you shouldn't be collecting the info for one purpose and using it for another." Over 40 states put bar codes or magnetic strips on licenses, and some cards have up to 2,000 bytes of storage space. Ari Schwartz of the Center of Democracy and Technology says the scanning of driver's licenses could also be used as a vehicle for fraud: In one scenario, a bar or restaurant employee could use a personal scanner to scan cards twice, so that the captured data can be sold to ID thieves. Also raising privacy proponents' hackles is the possibility of embedding even more personal data into license codes, or adopting driver's licenses as a national ID card.
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  • "Can E-Mail Survive?"
    PC Magazine (02/17/04); Metz, Cade

    Email reform is desperately needed, not only because of the convergence of spam and viruses, but because email is also threatening to collapse from overload. Legislation alone will not solve the problem: Laws such as the recently passed CAN-SPAM are unlikely to significantly reduce spam because so much of it comes from overseas, beyond U.S. jurisdiction. The best solution might involve a retooling of email on a fundamental level, as unappetizing as such a measure may be. Some email experts think a scheme should be set up in which a small fee is charged for every email sent, while a similar proposal would have users pay in CPU cycles. The solution favored by industry will probably be an email authentication scheme, perhaps one based on proposed standards such as Reverse MX authentication or SMTPi. However, years will probably pass before industry arrives at and deploys a single email authentication standard. Meanwhile, the combined problem of spam and viruses is making email less and less palatable for users and businesses, according to recent studies from InsightExpress and the Pew Internet and American Life Project. People discouraged from using email are turning to phones, voicemail, and instant messaging to fill the void.
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  • "Reasoning on the Web With Rules and Semantics"
    Sunday Times (Malta) (02/08/04); Campusino, Ibn

    The European Commission, as part of its sixth Framework Programme, will launch REasoning on the WEb with Rules and SEmantics (REWERSE), a research "Network of Excellence" that will include 27 European research and development organizations designed to bolster Europe's expertise in Web reasoning systems and applications, particularly Semantic Web systems. The four-year program starts March 1 with a budget of 5 million euros from the EU Commission and will be lead by professors Francois Bry and Hans Jurgen Ohlbach of the University of Munich. Matthew Montebello of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAI) department is among the 100 applied reasoning experts that will take part in the research. REWERSE's nine key areas of study will include adding semantics to the bioinformatics Web, reasoning-aware querying, software interoperability in the Web context, unified markup and tools for reasoning Web languages, Web-based decision support, determining the evolution of Web-based data repositories, and user-adapted Web information and teaching systems. REWERSE progress can be tracked at www.rewerse.net.

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  • "Return of the Supercomputers"
    Washington Technology (02/09/04) Vol. 18, No. 21, P. 16; Grimes, Brad

    The ascendance of Japan's Earth Simulator to the ranking of world's fastest supercomputer has spurred calls among U.S. computer scientists and government officials for greater investments in fundamental, next-generation supercomputing research. "It's a technological race, and it behooves the United States to maintain a high level of technical expertise and capability," asserts analyst Christopher Willard. However, Cray VP Christopher Jehn says that all major vendors have refused to make the necessary high-performance computing investments, on the grounds that they will not profit by it. Debate is raging over whether supercomputing clusters lashed together by off-the-shelf processors or vector processor-based systems such as the Earth Simulator are better solutions: Deep Computing VP David Turek maintains that commodity processor-based systems are not inferior, regardless of their theoretical peak performance compared to that of vector processor-based supercomputers. He says that a supercomputer's actual performance will always be lower than its theoretical peak in real-world situations, and argues that the real measure of a successful supercomputer is access. Not only has the Earth Simulator's emergence raised concerns that the United States is losing its supercomputing focus, but also that researchers may leave the country to find the high-performance computing resources they need to undertake projects or solve problems. Still, University of Tennessee computer scientist Jack Dongarra cites reports and congressional testimony hinting at a possible supercomputing resurgence in U.S. government and industry. Studies that map out a scheme for supercomputing funding have been issued by the Defense Department and an interagency task force established by the President's Office of Science and Technology, and the supercomputing research budgets of the Energy Department and the National Science Foundation were increased in 2004.
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  • "Rushing Toward Chaos"
    Computerworld (02/09/04) Vol. 32, No. 6, P. 32; Anthes, Gary H.

    In his book "It's Alive," Nerve founder Christopher Meyer diagrams the American IT's economy progression over the next decade, outlining the transition of companies to a biological evolutionary model that focuses on the "adaptive enterprise," spurred by rapid advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology. Meyer, former director of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's Center for Business Innovation, believes the economic value of day-to-day IT positions is going to drop and possibly be offshored, and thinks the next killer IT apps could stem from areas such as pattern recognition, autonomous agents, and globally distributed decision systems. He comments on the corporate use of nondeterministic programming such as genetic algorithms and agent-based simulations, the latter of which is used to simulate systems of people and social behavior, which he thinks will have significant implications for the social sciences. Meyer adds that nondeterministic programming methods will be commercialized as real-time supply chain optimization applications. Using nondeterministic techniques will require people to view information as a data stream about the world, and Meyer says this information will be captured by cheap, ubiquitous sensors that will emerge as molecular science progresses. He points out that many organizations desiring adaptive evolution will face a formidable challenge in using technologies that accommodate massive data streams. Meyer's philosophy is that companies and their IT shops should "operate at the edge of chaos." He insists such a strategy can have a positive effect: "If you believe competitive advantage lies in the ability to sense change in the environment and respond to it faster than anyone else, and thereby keep your opponents off balance even though you feel off balance because you are operating as fast as you can, then IT can create competitive advantage by being able to go through the orient-observe-decide-act cycle faster," he argues.
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  • "Smart Robot Pet Tricks"
    Discover (02/04) Vol. 25, No. 2, P. 26; Johnson, Steven

    Sony's AIBO robot dog comes with a set of preprogrammed behaviors, but after a period of resistance, Sony issued software developer tools that allow programmers to modify and customize the dog's behavior, partly in the hopes of making the toy a research platform for artificial intelligence and robotics projects. AIBO owners are making customized behavior packages available for download online, which has led to "personality swapping."
    One of the more sophisticated uses for the AIBO was explored last spring at Carnegie Mellon's first annual RoboCup American Open, in which teams of reprogrammed AIBOs played soccer, carrying out collaborative decisions on the fly. Meanwhile, design engineer Natalie Jeremijenko's team at Yale reprogrammed commercially available robot dogs to sniff out contaminants in public areas. The robots also engage in "pack behavior" whereby a dog that detects a specific pollutant attracts other dogs to him. These various projects facilitate self-expression, in defiance of traditional models of human-robot behavior, which subscribe to a vision of robots acting as either dutiful servants or exterminators of mankind. Jeremijenko may take her research project a step further by releasing canine robots into the wild.
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  • "The E-Mail Mess"
    Governing (01/04) Vol. 17, No. 4, P. 40; Perlman, Ellen

    Some states have strict laws against spammers, with some laws focusing on deceptive email and others trying to stop spam before it starts, but the new federal Can-Spam Act will hinder many of those laws. The federal legislation strengthens the rights of Internet users in states that lack anti-spam laws, and may help residents of states with weak laws, but in other areas people are displeased with the new law. It does not let individuals sue spammers, and its opt-out feature is held to be weaker than some states' opt-in requirement. EPrivacy Group chief privacy officer Ray Everett-Church says that previous attempts at opt-out provisions have proven that they do not work. The federal law's exception for providing a valid return email address also offers a large loophole, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. Companies that use email as a legitimate business tool support the federal law, saying that stricter laws--such as those in California, Washington State, and Delaware--are too dangerous for businesses, and support a national "do not email" registry. Although supporters of strong anti-spam laws agree that federal guidelines are better than a hodgepodge of laws from states, they say the weaker federal laws hurt overall anti-spam efforts. Delaware state prosecutor Steven Wood says the parts of Delaware's law that target selling software for falsifying routing information and making it a crime to access a person's computer to send them spam will remain under federal law. Washington State believes that its laws, which have been used to prosecute five spammers targeting state residents, will also complement, and not be superceded by, federal laws. Still, whether any laws can really stop the flow of spam is an open question; despite anti-spam laws in 36 states, the flood of spam continues.
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