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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 Thunderstone or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 7, Issue 813: Friday, July 8, 2005

  • "How Secure Is Federal 'Cybersecurity'?"
    Fox News (07/07/05); Vlahos, Kelley Beaucar

    Although the protection of America's cyber-infrastructure has been of primary concern since 9-11, official reports and industry experts concur that the U.S. government's cybersecurity effort comes up drastically short, focusing on short-term "band-aid" solutions instead of a long-term strategy. Observers blame a dearth of leadership and a failure to keep pace with the rapid appearance of new dangers. A February report from the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) attributed America's cybersecurity woes to inadequate R&D funding, refusal to share Federally developed technologies with the private sector, and general apathy in Washington; critics and PITAC co-chairman Edward Lazowska say little has been done to address these issues in the five months since the report was submitted. A May report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that the 13 critical security protocol implementation objectives the GAO recommended to the Department of Homeland Security remain unrealized, citing the continued lack of national cyberthreat and vulnerability evaluations or government-industry contingency recovery strategies. Beefing up the cybersecurity of America's critical infrastructure will remain an elusive goal until DHS tackles the challenges of organizational stability, information-sharing between government agencies as well as the government and the private sector, and the demonstration of effective cyberattack prevention, according to the GAO. Also in May, DHS took issue with an earlier DHS Inspector General's report that spotlighted security problems in several DHS agencies, arguing that significant improvement to U.S. cybersecurity has been made.
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  • "E-Vote Guidelines Need Work"
    Wired News (07/07/05); Zetter, Kim

    Critics say new voting system guidelines developed by the Technical Guidelines Development Committee for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) are an improvement over earlier guidelines, but are still inadequate when it comes to addressing many of the security issues that have made e-voting a source of controversy. Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin says the non-mandatory guidelines fail to resolve questions over the use of commercial off-the-shelf software, which is exempt from testing and certification, in e-voting systems. Nor do the guidelines ban the use of telecommunications in election systems, which Rubin and other critics say gives hackers an opening. Populex President Sanford Morganstein is distressed that the guidelines do not make a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) a required component of voting systems, despite his and other critics' argument that such a feature is necessary to maintain voter confidence. Instead, the committee's recommendation is that states have the final word on whether VVPATs should be mandatory. "I think the committee had guidance from EAC that what they wanted to see was language specifying how to use a [voter-verified paper audit trail] if a state would choose to do so, rather than trying to say whether VVPAT should be demanded," says MIT computer scientist and RSA Security co-founder Ron Rivest. Rubin, meanwhile, thinks e-voting system testing procedures would be more effective if they included authentic hacking attempts by "red team" testers. He argues that some requirements of the new guidelines, had they been incorporated into previous iterations, would have prevented the certification of Diebold voting systems.
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    For information on ACM's activities regarding e-voting, see http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "U.S. Lacks Initiative on Broadband Innovations"
    NewsFactor Network (07/07/05); Raveche, Harold J.

    Due to a failure to encourage research and development at an institutional level, the United States is losing traction in the global broadband competition, writes Stevens Institute of Technology President Harold Raveche. He says foreign developers, particularly in Europe and Asia, are pouring vast sums of money into broadband R&D at a rate that outpaces the U.S. As companies such as Lucent, Hewlett-Packard, and Cisco lose interest in R&D, U.S. dependence on foreign innovation has increased; as this trend continues, the trade deficit grows, with technology products accounting for $37 billion of the aggregate $617.7 billion trade deficit. To slow the ebb tide of U.S. innovation, Raveche recommends substantial investment in long-term R&D projects and a re-emphasis on the creation of next-generation scientists and engineers in U.S. education. Future broadband applications could reduce identity theft by improving cybersecurity, and foil cyber-terrorist attacks by strengthening our dangerously vulnerable infrastructure with secure encryption. Broadband also yields the appealing benefit of breaking down barriers among agencies by offering the potential for an interoperability standard that would link federal, state, and local responders. Paying increased attention to a field that promises to occupy such an important position in the emerging global marketplace will also provide a jolt for the economy, as U.S. preeminence in broadband will inevitably lead to the creation of thousands of jobs, Raveche argues.
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  • "Internet2 and LambdaRail, 2 Leading Groups in High-Speed Academic Networks, Discuss Merger"
    Chronicle of Higher Education (07/06/05); Kiernan, Vincent

    National LambdaRail (NLR) and Internet2 are considering a merger following a recommendation from a panel of networking experts, although leaders in both organizations caution that financial and bureaucratic concerns could bog down discussions. The panel's report concludes that the integration of these two groups would create "a single national entity responsible for the collective high-performance production-networking and experimental-networking needs of higher education and the larger research community." Internet2 operates the Abilene high-speed academic network used by many colleges for day-to-day Net links, while NLR is creating a nationwide fiber-optic network. Supporters say a merger would allow the groups to devote more time and resources to academic-networking projects by eliminating duplicate operations. Duke University CIO and chair of NLR's Board of Directors Tracy Futhey expects the differences between the two networks to grow more indistinct, making it increasingly harder to defend the continued existence of two separate entities to manage them. The expert panel's recommendation is that NLR and Internet2 combine into a third institution, the New National Networking Organization, by October. The panel suggested that the new organization should be governed by a 40-member board of trustees drawn primarily from NLR and Internet2.
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  • "Tech's Part in Preventing Attacks"
    CNet (07/07/05); Kanellos, Michael

    The terrorist bombings in London will undoubtedly make the development and deployment of preventative technologies even more imperative, and numerous companies are offering or developing products with attack deterrence in mind. Many intelligence agencies face a shortage of speakers of terrorist-associated languages, while translation itself can take time. Machine translation tools from Language Weaver can expedite this process by facilitating the dynamic conversion of Arabic, Chinese, and other dialects into English. Translation problems can also complicate the process of uncovering relationships between different pieces of data buried in unstructured, seemingly dissimilar documents, which is where search and text mining technologies come in. Examples include a CallMiner product for translating recorded phone calls into text and helping intelligence agents forge links between the conversation and data in existing files; systems from IBM and MetaCarta that search on geographic elements in emails or documents; and a Basis Technology search engine designed to reduce translation mistakes. Advanced monitoring systems that can absorb multiple camera or sensor input have been in the works at Crossbow Technologies and Dust Networks for several years, while 3D facial-recognition systems from Pixlogic, Pixim, and others focus on delivering more sophisticated ways of recognizing and tracking terrorists or anomalous elements in images. Pixlogic has developed software that matches still or video images with pictures captured by security cameras or other sources, and Pixim has created an image processor that fine-tunes images by eliminating noise.
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  • "American-Style Patents Won't Cross the Pond to EU"
    eWeek (07/06/05); Vaughan-Nichols, Steven J.

    The European Parliament's July 6 vote to discard the European Union's IT patenting proposal is sparking debate on how the decision will affect business and open source. The defeat of the law means the EU's patenting practices will not be aligned with those of the United States and Japan, where software and business patents are legitimate--for which the open-source community is thankful. Open Source Initiative co-founder Eric Raymond says there is a significant gap between how American-style patent systems function in theory and in practice, noting that in real life they tend to discourage rather than encourage innovation because of weak patentability filters and a lack of systematic checking of submissions against prior art. The Public Patent Foundation's Daniel Ravicher says the European decision will have little immediate impact, since current European patent laws permit a certain degree of software patenting, while open-source projects in the United States continue to exist side-by-side with software patents. Attorney Helen Smith is skeptical that a lack of American-style patent laws will generate competitive incentives for the EU's open-source economy and European IT companies. "The way to economic success for IT businesses large and small across Europe is for [an] open-source/free software system to exist alongside a predictable and consistent software patents system throughout Europe," she argues. Ravicher, however, is hopeful that the rejection of the EU's proposal will help governments worldwide realize the public ramifications of patent policy.
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  • "Schools Looking for Ways to Lure More Minorities"
    Triangle Business Journal (07/01/05); Sutker, Colin

    Undergraduate enrollments in computer science programs, which have tended to lean toward the white male demographic, are shrinking. This is spurring computer science departments to study their student populations in order to ascertain the reasons why they are failing to lure minorities, so that they can take action. University of Virginia professor Joanne Cohoon believes white males' attraction to computer science and the erosion of the white male majority in the United States are draining the pool from which the U.S. IT workforce is drawn from. Auburn University computer science professor Juan Gilbert says innovation in computer science programs is suffering because diversity is lacking, since students with common backgrounds follow a common problem-solving model that limits their creativity. He adds that minorities are often discouraged from pursuing computer science because they have few peers or role models, which perpetuates the stereotype that their mathematical skills are sub-par. Getting more minorities interested in computer science by providing role models to young students is the mission of organizations such as the Coalition to Diversify Computing and the Institute for African-American E-Culture. Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation has taken a leading role in national initiatives to boost minority enrollment by establishing the Broadening Participation in Computing program, which apportions grants to colleges for programs designed to increase minority participation from a $14 million fund.
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    For more information on the Coalition to Diversify Computing, visit http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Outreach/CDC/?Outreach/CDC/

  • "Professor's Computer Search Work Turns Heads"
    Champaign News-Gazette (IL) (07/05/05); Kline, Greg

    Personalizing Web searches to retrieve desired information faster and more accurately without being swamped by data is one of University of Illinois computer science professor ChengXiang Zhai's goals. His research has earned him a National Science Foundation-sponsored 2005 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Avoiding information overload is a pressing issue as bioinformatics research--one of Zhai's areas of interest--generates increasingly massive volumes of data. As a participant in the NSF-supported BeeSpace project, Zhai is involved in the creation of a computer system that enables researchers to manage intimidating stores of genetic data from bees while also incorporating scores of related documentation in order to facilitate the first complete study of an animal's normal behavior at the gene expression level. A more broadly applicable product being developed by Zhai is user-centered data information retrieval (UCAIR), a tool that can customize search results by recalling the links a user enters and their relationship to the query keyword. The system addresses privacy issues by keeping the query log on the user's computer. Other advanced search applications Zhai envisions include a system that is so familiar with users' preferences it can look for desired material without being queried, and a tool that can summarize requested information and produce a table of contents.
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  • "Video Robots Redefine 'TV Doctor'"
    Washington Post (07/06/05) P. A1; Stein, Rob

    Physicians in dozens of U.S. hospitals are using robots to remotely make their rounds, consult with colleagues, respond to emergency calls, and monitor intensive-care units. One such device is Dr. Robot, a wheeled machine controlled by a joystick and equipped with a camera, speaker, and video monitor that allows doctors to see and converse with patients and others. Other applications of telemedicine include robot-assisted surgery and medication dispensation; email communications between doctors and patients in rural or poor urban areas; psychotherapy via video teleconferencing; and remote monitoring and care of elderly people. Telemedicine is being praised for improving doctors' efficiency and enabling them to serve more patients, but critics argue that this makes medical care even more impersonal. Several experts contend that physical touch is essential to the healing process, and warn that physicians who monitor patients remotely could miss subtle clues about their condition. On the other hand, advocates cite studies indicating that the quality of care delivered through telemedicine is at least equal to, if not better than, that of face-to-face interaction, and patients report general satisfaction with telemedicine. Supporters also say patients treated via telemedicine often get more time with doctors and are discharged sooner. "I think we'll get to the point in the future where the use of robots and robotics and computer-aided diagnosis and treatment will transform the delivery of medical care," projects Jonathan Linkous of the American Telemedicine Association.
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  • "Television That Leaps Off the Screen"
    New York Times (07/03/05) P. 2-1; Krantz, Michael

    Stereoscopic television that displays three-dimensional imagery without the need for special eyewear is the ambitious goal of many companies, but Deep Light in California has made a major breakthrough: Their HD3D technology allows different programs to be shown to different viewers on one screen simultaneously thanks to multiple video "blades." Deep Light may have the advantage over bigger companies also pursuing 3D TV thanks to time multiplexing, the only system to currently offer rear-projection 3D without special glasses. Time multiplexing is based on the principle that natural 3D can be generated if an image is passed through a lens and beamed out at a precise angle by an open shutter, on a scale of 30 images a second at 10 angles; the angles of the image are transmitted so fast that each of the viewer's eyes sees its own angle of video regardless of his position in relation to the screen. Time multiplexing requires a frame rate of 300 frames per second to work, and the concept was the inspiration for HD3D, which offers superior resolution compared to 3D TV systems from Toshiba. Deep Light believes the first PC monitors capable of natural 3D could debut as soon as this winter, while HD3D television sets could start shipping by 2006. Three-dimensional home entertainment systems, however, may not catch on without first making a splash in cinemas. Deep Light co-founder Dan Mapes thinks an integration between 3D TV and the high-speed Internet will be even more significant, exclaiming that networked virtual environments represent the "ultimate application" of 3D screens.
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  • "Geocoding the World of Weblogs"
    University at Buffalo Reporter (06/30/05) Vol. 36, No. 40; Donovan, Patricia

    Researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Informatics are conducting a project that models the demographics of bloggers throughout the United States. To create an index of 300,000 blogs and pair them with a regional identity, communications professor Alexander Halavais and doctoral candidate Jia Lin have mined databases and ICBM meta tags to generate a geographic distribution of bloggers. Their findings show that blogs are heavily concentrated in urban population centers, particularly along the coasts but also in emerging cities such as Phoenix and Houston, while only a small percentage of blogs come from the Midwest. Blogs are also more common in zip codes that boast above average household incomes. The researchers contend that bloggers are a fair representation of the social structures and outlooks of non-bloggers. The study will "geocode" bloggers and analyze their content along geographic lines, hoping to gain insight into the political, social, and cultural characters of different regions. This type of study has only recently become relevant, as Lin says that "today, it is hard to ignore the public opinions reflected in the blogosphere," in contrast to the fringe status that characterized the blog just a few years ago. "Major bloggers are understood to represent much more than their personal point of view," Lin adds. Despite the great number of people who live their lives without ever reading or writing a blog, Lin and Halavais feel that bloggers are a significant enough microcosm that their study can provide an objective analysis of the greater population.
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  • "The Leader of the Robot Pack"
    CNet (07/07/05); Kanellos, Michael

    IRobot CEO and co-founder Colin Angle admits that the robotics industry is still young, and cites a U.N. report's prediction that the robot population will expand by a factor of seven between 2004 and 2007. IRobot was spun off from MIT, but Angle believes the company's future competitors will likely base their own products on iRobot platforms such as the Roomba automated vacuum cleaner. He says most of iRobot's military contracts focus on "decreasing the battlefield fog," noting that the PackBot and other devices are allowing soldiers to carry out dangerous missions, such as exploring caves for weapons, with less risk. The company is also a participant in the Future Combat Systems program, whose goal is to develop a mobile military unit that can be rapidly deployed anywhere in the world and access all of the data collected by any element, human or machine, through a network. IRobot is also investigating swarming robot technology, and has successfully demonstrated a fleet of robots that can furnish a physical plan of their location through coordinated reconnaissance and communication. Angle thinks humanoid robots, though a fascinating area of study, have limited commercial appeal beyond the entertainment industry. For one thing, non-humanoid robots such as the PackBot can perform tasks such as climbing stairs far more rapidly and efficiently than humanoid machines. Angle predicts that interest in using robots as physical avatars will rise, noting that a group in iRobot is looking into how the Roomba could be used for applications such as user-controlled remote surveillance.
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  • "Experimental Software"
    The Engineer Online (07/06/05)

    Microsoft Research scientists in Cambridge have developed C Omega, an experimental software language based on C# that offers features for writing concurrent programs. "We have a simple model of concurrency that works both for multiple threads on a single machine and for dealing with asynchronous communication between multiple machines," says Nick Benton of Microsoft Research. C Omega is also designed to combine relational, object, and XML data access, which means developers will not have to spend a lot of time converting between the three data models. "Typical enterprise applications have a relational database at the back, a middle tier of business logic written in C#, and an XML or HTML presentation tier at the front," explains Microsoft Research scientist Gavin Bierman. Benton and Bierman have made it easier for developers to program against structured relational data and semi-structured XML data. The public can download a compiler for C Omega at http://research.microsoft.com/Comega.
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  • "Entering a Dark Age of Innovation"
    New Scientist (07/02/05) Vol. 187, No. 2506, P. 26; Adler, Robert

    Despite those heralding ours as an age of unparalleled technological advancement, an historical perspective paints a gloomier picture. Physicist Jonathan Huebner with the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center has mapped out the history of invention and concludes that we are entering a period of innovative decline: He found that a graph of patents issued per person in the United States crests at 1915, while the current global rate of innovation is roughly the equivalent to the rate in 1600, with further declines expected. Huebner predicts the rate of innovation will equal that of the Dark Ages in 2024, and believes that while there are still plenty of minor alterations and inventions on the horizon, the number of legitimately revolutionary discoveries still remaining is small. Others argue with Huebner's method, claiming this his analysis of 7,200 significant inventions is arbitrary, and that he does not give enough credit to still-emerging areas such as nanotechnology and genome sequencing, ignoring also the innovations that could be facilitated by the staggering advances in telecommunications and Internet connectivity speeds. Further, modern innovation appears in a different form, as so much of today's advances exist at a level human beings can only understand abstractly. Those with an opposing view of Huebner's, such as artificial intelligence expert Ray Kurzweil, believe that the rate of innovation is actually accelerating fast enough to eventually defy prediction, one day reaching a point of technological "singularity." Between Huebner and Kurzweil there are the moderates, who see our current age as somewhere in the middle of spectrum: "I see the world being presently at the peak of its rate of change and that there is ahead of us as much change as there is behind us," said physicist Ted Modis. "I don't subscribe to the continually exponential rate of growth, nor to an imminent drying up of innovation."
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  • "What Are the Limits of Conventional Computing?"
    Science (07/01/05) Vol. 309, No. 5731, P. 96; Seife, Charles

    Mathematicians have demonstrated that any of the hardest computational problems--also known as NP problems--could be solved through a quick and easy shortcut to answering just one of them. However, the existence of such a shortcut is unproven, and generally doubted by scientists. One of the greatest mathematical challenges lies in confirming that this shortcut does indeed exist. Bell Labs researcher Claude Shannon proved more than 60 years ago that bits can represent not just the basic data blocks of computers, but also the fundamental units of information that moves between objects. A bit's speed of movement, the amount of information that can be shifted back and forth over a given communications channel, and the amount of energy needed to delete a bit from memory are subject to physical laws that apply to all classical information-processing devices. However, physicists are attempting to build quantum computers that are not governed by such laws, since quantum theory permits quantum objects to store information that can exist as 0 and 1 simultaneously as well as 0 or 1. Quantum computers could theoretically be able to find a target record in a database with a very small number of queries, for example, but researchers are still pursuing a practical quantum computer.
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  • "Plotting Your Future in the Global IT Job Market"
    InfoWorld (07/04/05) Vol. 27, No. 27, P. 28; Gincel, Richard

    Adaptability is key if U.S. technology workers are to have gainful employment in the face of globalization and companies' increasing reliance on offshore IT outsourcing. Alsbridge's Ed Rankin says creativity and the ability to innovate will continue to be a prized quality for employees, but author John Hagel III warns that innovation alone is no guarantee of job stability. "What's important now is to be building your skills faster than anyone else or you won't be successful," he insists. Successful workers will need to complement their science, math, and engineering skills with business acumen, especially as IT departments play an increasingly vital role in delivering the company's business value. The need for combined IT and business proficiency is spawning new titles such as business transformation architects, and IBM Global Services' Michael Liebow expects workers who can lay out guidelines for the adoption of service-oriented architectures to become even more valuable. Forrester Research analyst Stephanie Moore recommends that current IT employees develop skills in project management, program management, and vendor management, while a recent Gartner study forecasts a rise in stock for third-party delivery managers in the coming years. Senior-level, director roles could become more numerous as a direct result of the overseas migration of midlevel IT positions and increased rivalry for what few job openings remain.
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  • "Inside Purdue's Envision Center"
    Campus Technology (06/05) Vol. 18, No. 10, P. 38; Madhavan, Krishna P.C.; Arns, Laura L.; Bertoline, Gary R.

    The National Science Foundation is funding Purdue University's Envision Center as an interdisciplinary, high-performance platform for discovery and learning that applies the principles of data perceptualization. Data perceptualization involves the translation of large volumes of data into useful knowledge by permitting "a richer use of many [human] senses, including sound and touch, to increase the rate at which people can assimilate and understand information," according to Stuart Card in the March 1996 issue of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications. The Envision Center's mission is to bridge the gap between discovery and learning by encouraging student participation in research efforts through the exposure of students to the latest data perceptualization technologies and the creative display of and interaction with scientific data by faculty members. Among the many tools the Envision Center uses is VR Theater, an immersive virtual environment featuring 3D images rear-projected on movable screens, a tracking system that facilitates corrective perspective rendering and direct environmental interaction, and surround sound. The facility supports collaboration and communication between geographically scattered researchers and students through the Access Grid, an aggregation of resources that includes multimedia large-format displays, presentation, and interactive environments, and grid middleware and visualization environment interfaces. Another tool is a portable motion capture system that records a person's movements and digitizes them into a 3D model, while the tiled wall display can support up to 9.4 million pixels and can be used for 2D, 3D, or stereo generation of single, large-scale continuous images. A major objective of the Envision Center is to give students who are well-versed in scientific concepts real-world research experiences.
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  • "Inaction on Offshoring Will Hurt U.S. IT, Author Says"
    Computerworld (07/04/05) P. 13; Thibodeau, Patrick

    As the IT landscape globalizes in scope, the growing tendency of companies to look overseas for low-cost labor poses significant challenges to U.S. hegemony in the industry. Ron Hira, an assistant professor of Public Policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, believes the sizeable increases in profitability some companies have demonstrated through offshoring IT jobs has generated a new business model. Even though the United States continues to enjoy a competitive edge in technological innovation, the increasing attention companies are paying to overseas labor casts a shadow over the source of the next generation of innovators. Even if innovation remains the province of the United States, Hira says the interconnectedness of the global economy ensures that much of the wealth a given U.S. innovation would generate will actually be realized by overseas competitors in the form of providing the jobs necessary to support and implement the advancement. Most alarming has been the lack of attention paid to the labor shift by U.S. companies, Hira says. He advocates offering extended trade assistance to software workers, such as unemployment insurance, health care, and money for retraining. Hira is also critical of policymakers for turning a blind eye to offshoring. "We don't even collect data on this. And it's not as though we can't do it; it's a question of having no political will to even collect the data on it." Given the lower cost of skilled labor overseas, Hira sees little hope for reversing the trend of offshoring. Efforts could be made, however, to curb the influence of H-1B visas that open the door to foreign labor and to renew the attention paid to the interconnection of IT and business in our education system.
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  • "Speech Technologies Impact the Accessibility Market"
    Speech Technology (06/05) Vol. 10, No. 3, P. 10; Jamison, Nancy

    Speech technologies are being mainstreamed often to the exclusion of users of assistive technology (AT), which include the dexterity, sight, hearing, cognitive, and speech impaired--and this is ironic, given that handicapped users frequently drive technology development. Market drivers for speech technologies include the government, which has set up legislation designed to make the provision of accessible products or services both a requirement as well as an incentive for companies, and the development of accessible mainstream products. Mainstream vendors must play a key role in boosting product accessibility, partly through the incorporation of speech technologies into product design. AT types for people with certain impairments may not be suitable for people with other disabilities: Speech technologies for sight-impaired individuals are useful as tools for conveying information, while the hearing-impaired often use them for command and control. Examples of speech technologies well suited to the vision-disabled include text-to-speech, voice-activated dialing, and note taker products that incorporate Braille. People suffering from hearing loss can take advantage of interactive communication solutions that use software to convert speech to text and video sign language in real time. Dexterity or mobility-challenged people often use automated speech recognition (ASR) to command and control both keyboard and software functions; ASR eliminates the need to use the keyboard or mouse by enabling users to supply data to business and productivity applications and dictate text into others. People with cognitive, language, or speech impairments can use technologies that convert spoken input into graphical images and are helpful for people undergoing speech therapy.
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