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ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either AutoChoice Advisor or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 6, Issue 696:  Monday, September 20, 2004

  • "Lawmakers Call for Cybersecurity Enhancements"
    InternetNews.com (09/16/04); Mark, Roy

    Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) have introduced the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2004, which expands cybersecurity to include wire communication and gives the DHS the authority to protect telecommunications, in addition to computers and computer networks. Thornberry, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cyberspace, Science, and Research and Development, and Lofgren, ranking member of the panel, have also introduced the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Enhancement Act of 2004, which would create a program in which the DHS would work with the private sector to make promising technology available to government agencies and the business community. "I believe the department must invest more time, more money and more energy to R&D. Our legislation will help the department develop the cutting-edge technologies needed to win the war on terror," says Lofgren. Legislative insiders hope to see elements of the bills end up in future cybersecurity bills and initiatives. The bill also amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to establish an assistant secretary for cybersecurity post. That provision was added in response to testimony from experts on increasing cybersecurity threats and the need to establish high-ranking involvement in the government's efforts to fight it.
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  • "FP6 Grid Projects Target a Return on Europe's Research Investment"
    Cordis News Service (09/17/04)

    One of the major goals of the European Union's information societies technology program is to build a robust grid research community in Europe, although INRIA's Thierry Priol, coordinator of the CoreGRID Network of Excellence, notes that European investment levels in grid technologies far outweigh the presence of this community. The first injection of EU funding for grid research was a 58-million-euro investment, which doubled to 120 million euros with the segue to the Sixth Framework Program (FP6). "Our mandate [under FP6] is to move grids from the research labs towards applications in business and lay the basis for the next generation of grids," noted Wolfgang Boch with DG Research at the official launching of 12 FP6 grid projects on Sept. 15. One of the projects, a 21-partner initiative called NextGRID, is committed toward developing the building blocks of next-generation commercial grids; David Snelling with Fujitsu Laboratories Europe says the NextGRID consortium had to identify the critical components for enabling future grids, such as security, adaptability, and the maintenance of individual privacy. Snelling asserts that Europe is well positioned to become a commercial grid market leader, although he says that more risk-taking and short-term employment of specially developed grid services should be an industry priority. NextGRID project coordinator Mark Parsons with the University of Edinburgh says the project team will build NextGRID atop current state-of-the-art grid technology, using open standards, and develop applications for business environments such as a grid-based data mining system for managing legal documents within law firms. CoreGRID, which comprises 118 researchers and 163 Ph.D. students in 18 nations, seeks to build a virtual European grid research laboratory with an emphasis on grid middleware and peer-to-peer technologies, to act as a "grid lighthouse" for the rest of the world, according to Priol.

  • "Barbarians at the Digital Gate"
    New York Times (09/19/04) P. 3-1; O'Brien, Timothy L.; Hansell, Saul

    The proliferation of spyware and adware requires Internet users to take special precautions while online, but growing dissent is prompting some of the companies behind the rise in adware to try more palatable business practices. Advertisers and major Web sites, meanwhile, have become more comfortable with using pop-up advertising that targets users based on their interests. "From what consumers are telling us, they feel their computers are being taken away from them," says Spyware-Guide.com co-founder Wayne Porter. Keeping PCs free from spyware and adware means using a less vulnerable Web browser, such as Mozilla's Firefox, or downloading protective programs such as Spybot-Search & Destroy, Spy Sweeper, or Adaware. The leading adware company, Claria, is trying to reform its image by making its programs easier to identify and remove: The company, formerly named Gator, is known for bundling its Web-monitoring programs with other free software and grew rapidly by piggybacking on popular downloads such as the Kazaa file-sharing client. Claria currently claims about 29 million users, according to comScore MediaMetrix, and was founded with support from famous Silicon Valley personas. Claria claims 425 major advertising clients--including Cendent, Netflix, and Orbitz--but has been sued by many Web firms for violating trademark protection by triggering pop-ups when users visit those companies' Web sites; Claria chief marketing officer Scott Eagle says the company is moving away from pop-ups to generating targeted embedded ads for some Web sites. WhenU.com CEO Avi Naider is less apologetic about his company's adware activities, saying current consumer backlash is due to a lack of education about the benefits of adware.
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  • "Saving the Artistic Orphans"
    Wired News (09/20/04); Dean, Katie

    Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle and film collector Rick Prelinger filed a lawsuit against the government in March in an effort to secure permission to digitally archive "orphan" works determined to be commercially nonviable yet restricted from public access by copyright. Without such access, younger students and scholars who use the Internet as their primary source of knowledge will be deprived of important information, Kahle warns. Kahle and Prelinger are represented by Chris Sprigman of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, who argues that current copyright legislation "doesn't benefit the public because it keeps creative works locked up, and it doesn't benefit private rights holders because these works are out of print." Congress revised the law so that copyright holders no longer have to register or renew their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office, which makes it difficult to track down owners, especially of orphan works. The lawsuit posits that the legislation is hindering the distribution of knowledge and cultural enlightenment by extending copyright regulation even if the original author no longer needs continued protection for his or her intellectual property. The plaintiffs are attempting to build their case by gathering examples of orphaned material, such as the criminology essays of the late Dr. Leo Alexander, whose heirs still have not been located. A motion to dismiss the case was recently filed by the government, which prompted the plaintiffs to file an opposition; the filing of the government's reply is slated for October. Critics say the suit simply reiterates an earlier case against the length of copyright extension terms that was dismissed by the Supreme Court last January, while the Copyright Office acknowledges the issue of orphan works without advocating a specific strategy to address it.
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  • "CMU Project Envisions Computers Even the Poorest Third World Farmer Could Use"
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (09/20/04); Spice, Byron

    Former dean of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University Raj Reddy is focused on bringing affordable Internet access to poor people throughout the world using the PCtvt, a $250 device that consists of a PC, a telephone that uses Voice over Internet Protocol technology, a color TV, and a video recorder while supporting wireless Internet links. The device is also outfitted with a Web cam for accommodating video mail, an important consideration for users who cannot read or write; the computer supports a keyboard and mouse, while a remote control device is offered as well. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's College of Engineering are developing inexpensive broadband technology for the PCtvts, using a $3 million National Science Foundation grant. A major area of design--and redesign--for UC Berkeley's Information and Communication Technology for Billions project is the height of the antennas, and the current solution is to mix high and short antennas under the guiding principle that each village should be able to construct its own broadband antenna, provided that it is within range of a neighboring village's antenna. The PCtvt project also involves the participation of researchers at the University of Washington, the India Institute of Science, and India's International Institute of Information Technology. The PCtvt does not use a hard drive as a primary memory component, since it is assumed that a single computer will have more than one user; instead, a flash memory key is issued to each user that can be mated to the units' universal serial bus port. PCtvt users would be charged a small amount of money for each instance of Internet usage rather than a flat monthly access fee. Reddy plans to field-test the prototype PCtvts in China, India, and Africa next year to determine the viability and desirability of sustainable computing.
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    Raj Reddy is co-reciepient of ACM's 1994 A.M. Turing Award (http://www.acm.org/awards/taward.html).

  • "NEC Extends Quantum Cryptography Range and Speed"
    IDG News Service (09/16/04); Kallender, Paul

    Slated for commercial release in the second half of 2005 is a quantum cryptography system from NEC capable of generating keys at 100 Kbps and transmitting them to destinations as far away as 40 kilometers along commercial fiber-optic lines. Earlier NEC "round-trip" quantum cryptography systems were slower and had less range because of technical difficulties with the receiver, used in combination with a laser at one end, and the mirror at the other end. The prior systems' detector had trouble accurately registering the arrival of photons, while the mirror was adversely affected by temperature; Akio Tajima with NEC's System Platforms Research Laboratories says these issues were resolved by a new detector that more rapidly clears the photon registration delay, and a retooled mirror with greater temperature tolerance. He also notes that the laser employed by the new system generates less noise through power optimization, which improves efficiency. Kazuo Nakamura of NEC's Fundamental and Environmental Research Laboratories says the system generates quantum keys at faster speeds and greater distances than any other system in the world. Without the combination of speed and range, the system would not be commercially viable. "There is no commercial market for quantum cryptography right now, so we want to create one," says System Platforms Research Laboratories chief manager Toshiyuki Kanoh. The system's development was a collaborative venture between NEC, Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, and the Japan Science and Technology Agency's Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology.
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  • "Tim Berners-Lee, Director, W3C"
    InternetNews.com (09/17/04); Naraine, Ryan

    In an interview shortly following his keynote address at the SpeechTek Conference, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) director Tim Berners-Lee argues that software providers ought to take a greater responsibility for security vulnerabilities in their products, and is puzzled that the industry has not yet implemented some straightforward measures to remedy serious problems, even though the technology already exists. For instance, he notes that the wider use of SPF could be an effective solution against the quick spread of viruses by deterring the practice of forging "from:" addresses in emails. Berners-Lee also says the assertion that operating systems cannot draw a distinction between malware-laden and uncontaminated items is fundamentally untrue. He assesses the Semantic Web to be at the second stage of its development, with a certain maturity having been achieved with the W3C recommendations for Resource Description Framework and Web Ontology Language. Berners-Lee thinks the open source community can help spur innovation and benefit the technology market, with particular applications in the educational and prototyping arena. To avoid industry-controlled software standards, he recommends that companies look ahead five years instead of six months when planning business strategy, and adds that large buyers, who are traditionally averse to vendor lock-in, should wield their influence to push for standardization. Among the major challenges to the W3C's mission are the unease over patents and propriety standards as well as the patents and royalties controversy. Berners-Lee believes the mobile Web is an area to watch for the next six months, although this sector is also under the threat of market fragmentation. He says the W3C must "show how to use the existing technology of the mobile Web to allow access to a unified Web from any device, in any context, by anyone."
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  • "Competing for DVD Supremacy"
    New York Times (09/20/04) P. C3; Belson, Ken

    Sony, Panasonic, and other major consumer electronics companies are in a pitched battle with computer firms Toshiba and NEC over the next-generation videodisc format. The Sony-led group supports an entirely new Blu-ray technology that would hold six times more data than current DVDs and would work with high-definition technology as well; the Toshiba and NEC technology, HD-DVD, is more of an evolutionary upgrade to DVD technology and would be cheaper to produce and work more fluidly with existing computer technology. The companies aligning with both sides show different ideas about the future of digital video, with the Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung group aiming to keep the television and other consumer electronics devices the hub of household entertainment, and HD-DVD supporters attempting to shift toward computer-controlled network environment, where televisions and other devices are peripheral. Toshiba and NEC have submitted their standard for approval from the 220-member DVD Forum, while the Blu-ray group is just 13 members after recent expansion. Technology observers say Sony and cohorts are attempting to give themselves an advantage through exclusive technology, now that they are faced with fast commoditization. HD-DVD technology is further along, and Microsoft has announced its next Windows operating system will support the standard. At least one manufacturing firm, Memory-Tech based in Tokyo, has already stamped out 250,000 test discs using its existing DVD factory lines. Microsoft's new Xbox, which the company intends to release before the next-generation PlayStation, will likely be forced to use HD-DVD because of time constraints, while the PlayStation will most likely use Blu-ray technology.
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  • "Hollywood: It's Time to Get Creative, Use the Net"
    SiliconValley.com (09/19/04); Gillmor, Dan

    Dan Gillmor laments the apparent subordination of services that offer Internet content downloaded and replayed on television--TiVo, for instance--to the entertainment cartels, which support what he determines to be an outmoded, myopic business model. This business model is based on what Gillmor terms a "buffet method," whereby the user pays for all content even though he consumes only a small fraction. Cable and satellite TV subscribers must purchase an array of channels that offer little in terms of choice beyond adding premium channels, whose programming is also outside the subscribers' control. Gillmor calls the role of TV networks and channels as gatekeepers an obsolete function that no longer applies to today's world, where high-quality programming production costs are significantly lower and delivery options are considerably wider than previously. He notes that many channels simply repeat programs that have already been aired, and suggests that they could encourage people to record such content for later viewing by offering creative and unique niche programming. Gillmor also speculates that the falling cost of producing high-quality video could promote the emergence of intermediary services to help viewers find desirable programming. However, this vision could be impeded by Hollywood's relentless pressure on government to institute regulations for limiting the use of digital content, all in the name of protecting their copyrights. Gillmor writes, "The future of video should be an expansion of choices: Into dimensions far beyond the traditional tube."
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  • "Study: IT Job Market Continues to Be Stagnant"
    Computerworld (09/16/04); Weiss, Todd R.

    A new study conducted by the Center for Urban Economics Development at the University of Illinois in Chicago reveals that the number of information technology jobs has fallen from 2.1 million in March 2001 to 1.7 million in March 2004, and that approximately half of the 403,300 lost jobs came after the last recession ended in November 2001. The San Francisco region suffered the most as the local market lost 49 percent of its IT jobs during the period. The study only counted positions in three IT employment classifications: at traditional IT companies involving software publishers; Internet service providers, Web search portals and data processing; and computers systems design and related services. The study was based on data from the U.S. Current Population Survey for 2001 to 2004 and from the U.S. government's Current Employment Statistics data. "It is important to recognize that even though the economy has been recovering, in IT the job losses are continuing," says Nik Theodore, director of the center and co-author of the study. Theodore says many employers still have concerns about the health of the economy, and offshore outsourcing is responsible for some of the job losses.
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  • "Smog-Sniffing Sensors"
    The Feature (09/16/04); Pescovitz, David

    As part of the Research Councils U.K.'s E-Science program to promote new kinds of research made possible by wireless technology, the Internet, and distributed computing, several British universities are participating in the Urban Pollution Project, an effort to map out pollution over a wide metropolitan area for the benefit of environmental scientists as well as citizens. Observation of urban pollution levels is presently facilitated by a small number of sensors distributed throughout a city, which collect data that is used to produce statistics; however, University College London's Ben Croxford established 10 years ago that pollution dispersion can deviate dramatically from street to street due to building configurations, the number of stoplights, wind direction, and other immeasurable variables. "Mobile sensors that are geographically tracked could help fill in the gaps to give a broad and dense picture of how pollution affects urban spaces and the people within them," explains University College London computer science researcher Anthony Steed. "If you have several hundred or thousand sensors, you could give them to commuters and they'd make a map of the city's pollution." Urban Pollution Project researchers have carried out a field study using bicycle-mounted sensors that detect carbon monoxide spikes and other signs of pollution, and within the next 12 months they plan to enlist a manufacturer to build numerous sensors equipped with GPS receivers and cellular transmitters. The sensors can self-advertise their existence, disseminate "news-you-can-use," and publicize the E-Science initiative courtesy of bluejacking software developed by Ben Hooker of the Royal College of Art. Volunteers would wear these sensors on their person or their bikes as they conduct their daily business, and the data collected by the devices would be used to generate 3D pollutant dispersion schematics.
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  • "Technology Can Be the Multiplier"
    Business Week (09/27/04); Hamm, Steve

    The dividing line between poverty and affluence can be eroded by the proper application of technology, according to executive coordinator of the United Nations Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force Sarbuland Khan, whose group is tasked with helping to spur economic growth in developing countries through the distribution of information technologies. He says the U.N. General Assembly's debate on globalization determined that Internet access is a vital ingredient for economic development, so the ICT was founded to promote this by bringing together government and industry. "It's in the interest of the businesses not just to sell computers but to help the countries--to be partners with them," Khan states. He describes the ICT's mission as a three-stage process: In the first stage, policymakers are made aware that technology diffusion is workable; in the second stage, an appropriate policy and regulatory framework for broadband, satellite, and wireless is established; and in stage three, technology costs are lowered through collaborative initiatives with the private sector, which stands to reap rewards from previously inaccessible markets with the resulting economic growth. One major project Khan's task force is engaged in is the connection of all secondary schools in developing nations to the Internet, in order to improve teacher training, text books, and thinking. Khan notes that cell phones are a key enabling technology for economic growth, one that outpaces radio and TV as an economy-driving communications medium. He says rapid economic expansion can be achieved through the foundation of a stable middle class, if policymakers can get over their reluctance to commit admittedly scarce financial resources to such a goal. Khan also recommends that they invest that money in technology that benefits critical areas such as health and education.
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  • "Uncle Sam's Semantic Web"
    XML.com (09/15/04); Ford, Paul

    The federal government is optimistic about the Semantic Web, but the 2004 Semantic Technologies for e-Government Conference shows that the concept still has a lot to prove. Much of the conference featured introductions and tutorials, and there were only a handful of actual Semantic Web applications. World Wide Web Consortium Semantic Web Activity lead Eric Miller said his standards organization was focusing on two efforts: The RDF Data Access Working Group (DAWG), which aims to present a standard RDF query language by January 2005, and the Semantic Web Best Practices and Deployment Working Group, which will ease the implementation obstacles of RDF data-sharing. Miller said the Semantic Web was not a magic bullet that would solve all data-sharing issues, but was an enabling technology that worked well in specific deployments. Most of the federal projects presented at the conference focused on narrow applications, such as sharing information, tracking down people who owe child-support, or identifying terrorists. But there were no projects that aimed for broader goals the Semantic Web could possibly enable, such as opening up data to citizens, and the topic of privacy rarely came up. Some of the criticism leveled at Semantic Web technologies came from National Institute of Standards and Technology manufacturing systems integration division head Steven Ray, who said the Semantic Web's OWL framework was capable of defining all that was needed. Ray pointed to the KIF-based Process Exchange Language that defines and facilitates exchange in manufacturing processes as an example of a more robust ontology.
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  • "'Dirty Dozen' Tips From Former Cybersecurity Czar"
    Computerworld New Zealand (09/14/04); Watson, David

    Richard A. Clarke, the former cybersecurity advisor to President Bush, claims hackers and phishers are keeping e-commerce and e-government from reaching their full potential. Clarke says security worries are the primary factor thwarting the widespread take-up of Internet banking and other transactions that can be done more cheaply and efficiently online. Clarke lists a dozen trends that will influence IT security in the future, including encryption of archived data and automated security audits of IT assets with asset management software. In IT security, the future "dirty dozen" trends also include more thorough testing of software code for mistakes such as buffer overflows and protecting the client side as well as the back-end. One of the most crucial trends will be to control the "road warriors"--travelers and visitors who remotely connect their laptops into corporate networks and introduce worms and viruses. Clarke says products that scan and check laptops for security risks will become more widely used. Another important trend is the outsourcing of fundamental security functions such as firewalls and intrusion detection to groups such as ISPs. More attention to security threats from inside, such as former workers who keep access to systems and information at their former workplace, will find corporate networks increasingly segmented so that workers can only obtain access to systems relevant to their position. Clarke says, "People are trying to take back cyberspace from the phishers, identity thieves and hackers and we can all be part of the effort to take it back."
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  • "Citizen-Scientists"
    Government Executive (09/01/04) Vol. 36, No. 15, P. 21; Dickey, Beth

    The U.S. Defense Department is attempting to avoid a projected shortage of domestic scientists and engineers through student outreach programs such as Starbase, the Army's e-cybermission initiative, and Materials World Modules. Starbase, which targets students in kindergarten through 12th grade, is designed to motivate learning among at-risk kids through week-long instructional sessions at military bases, with a focus on aviation and space-related simulations and experiments. The e-cybermission program organizes students in grades six through nine into teams to identify community problems, organize theories, and test them via experimentation and research, while Army scientists, engineers, soldiers, and civilians assist the teams online. Meanwhile, Northwestern University's inquiry-based science and technology curriculum has been adopted by thirteen overseas U.S. bases and over 500 U.S. schools for grades nine through 12, under the auspices of the National Science Foundation-funded Materials World Modules Program. The initiative enables students to gain laboratory and communications skills by using familiar materials such as ceramics, plastics, and metals in physics, math, chemistry, and biology research so that they can create designs or products. These programs are being driven by a sizable decline in qualified American science and engineering graduates in conjunction with anticipated rises in the military's demand for experts in fields ranging from computer hardware and software engineering to chemistry to materials science to electronics to aerospace and mechanical engineering. Many jobs in these fields require security clearances authorized by U.S. citizenship.
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  • "Wearable Aid for the Visually Impaired"
    IEEE Pervasive Computing (09/04) Vol. 3, No. 3, P. 6; Voth, Danna

    Guide dogs, canes, and other traditional navigational aids for visually impaired people cannot prevent collisions with certain obstacles, but a team of University of Washington students led by Human Interface Technology Lab assistant director Eric Seibel has invented a cheap wearable device that alerts users to the proximity of stationary objects. The proof-of-concept device integrates a video camera equipped with infrared light-emitting diodes (LEDs), a scanner headset, a laptop worn in a backpack, and software, and Seibel observes that the laptop could be multifunctional, given that many visually impaired people regularly use computers in a variety of applications. The camera is mounted on one side of the headset's eyeglass frame, while the scanning fiber display and optics are positioned on the opposite side; potential collision objects are identified by a machine vision program included in the software, which also incorporates a display control program and a graphical user interface that establishes parameters for the embedded processor and produces warning icons. Video captured by the camera is analyzed by the software, which measures the relative luminance of objects to determine the ones that are getting closer, and then signals the processor to display a warning icon that is beamed into the wearer's left eye when a potential collision object is spotted. University of Washington student Ryland Bryant explains that a visual display was chosen over an auditory signal because subjects often depend on their hearing to get around. The device boasts a working range of approximately 10 feet. Testing drew attention to several problems, such as the low sensitivity people have to red light used in the device and distracting noise caused by the vibration of a ceramic piezoelectric actuator; the researchers solved the second problem with the addition of a second piezo, while the first problem could be remedied with blue or green LEDs. One future upgrade Seibel envisions is the installation of optical character readers so that users can read documents such as prescription labels.
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  • "The New Face of Hollywood"
    Technology Review (09/04) Vol. 107, No. 7, P. 66; Huang, Gregory T.

    Cutting-edge computer graphics technology tends to rapidly migrate to the film industry, as evidenced by the visual effects houses employing state-of-the art face rendering software to produce more photorealistic virtual characters. Such applications not only help sell the artifice to filmgoers, but free up filmmakers to orchestrate scenes and sequences in environments where real actors and film crews cannot go. The convincing appearance of synthetic faces in movies such as "Spider-Man 2" owe their realism to advances in skin rendering, digital scene lighting, and facial image capture. One method, co-developed by Mark Sagar and graphics researcher Paul Debevec, marries the former's face modeling technique with the latter's lighting approach, allowing digital visages to be built from a database of actual faces photographed from multiple angles and under variant illumination. These faces can be customized to match the lighting in any given scene. Sagar was employed at Sony Pictures Imageworks for "Spider-Man 2," where he and his team devised user-friendly software to allow the company's animators to tap a wealth of image data without getting overwhelmed by technical details. Further challenges to photorealistic digital face rendering include reducing the robotic appearance of eye movements, proper skin wrinkling in response to facial expressions, and more convincing mimicry of blood flow. Other applications for the technology Sagar foresees include video games, surgical training, personal chat-room and email avatars, and human-computer interfaces. Honda and Microsoft, for example, are working on technology that would make it possible to create virtual characters and digital avatars from a photograph. Sagar says, "We're at an interesting age when we're starting to simulate humans down to the last detail."
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