ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.

To send comments, please write to [email protected].

Volume 2, Issue 101:  Friday, September 1, 2000

  • "High-Tech Productivity Boom Rolls On"
    Financial Times (09/01/00) P. 4; Adiga, Aravind

    Business workers in the United States have received notable boosts in productivity and compensation growth rates in recent years, according to the annual Labor Day report of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). The report found that the annual productivity growth rate for non-farm workers reached 3 percent in 1999, a significant increase from the 1.3 percent growth rate that existed from 1974 to 1995. The report cites technological advances such as computer-aided design programs as a main reason for the increases in productivity. Also, NAM reports that the annual compensation growth rate in 1999 was 3.6 percent, a 2.5 percent rise from the annual rate between 1974 and 1995. Salaries were up as well, with the average private-sector worker making $42,000, while the average manufacturing employee made $49,000. The report counters claims that international trade has hurt U.S. workers, finding that trade was responsible for creating 25 percent of new private-sector jobs in the 1990s. However, the report does warn of a potential shortage in skilled workers that could threaten continued improvement in productivity. Critics of the report suggest that NAM overlooked the struggles of lower-paid workers and overemphasized the importance of international trade.

  • "High-Tech Salaries Keep Powering Ahead"
    Washington Post (08/31/00) P. E8; Johnson, Carrie

    Despite the uneven performance of high-tech stocks in recent months, employees of high-tech firms are receiving even higher salaries this year, according to a new survey from Buck Consultants. The survey found that the average salary of Web workers has risen 8.5 percent from 1999 to $82,000 per year. The average salary for online executives has increased from $295,800 to $323,300. Moreover, the survey reports more companies are offering signing bonuses this year--nearly 70 percent, a 10-percent gain over last year--while 30 percent of the firms surveyed said they provided performance bonuses to current employees. Analysts with Buck Consultants believe the increases reflect the demand for new employees and the shortage of qualified workers and will continue to grow until that conflict is resolved.

  • "Study: Net Fueling Global Job Boom"
    E-Commerce Times (08/29/00); Enos, Lori

    Jobs created by the Internet economy in the United States and six European countries will exceed 10 million by 2002, concludes a new study, "Internet Enabled Job Creation and the Digital Revolution," from Andersen Consulting. The study reports that the Internet will be the cause of 3 million jobs in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, and 5.8 million jobs in the United States by 2002. Internet-related industries will create an additional 2 million jobs. These jobs include positions in tech firms such as Web portal companies, ISPs, and Web design firms, as well as in traditional firms establishing their own Internet presence. The Internet economy's rapid growth has also increased demand for traditional marketing and customer-service employees. "The good news is that the Internet is creating more jobs than it is destroying," says Andersen Consulting's Steve Freeman. The study estimates the value of the Internet economy in 2002 at $1.23 trillion in the United States and $597 billion in the European countries surveyed. However, the study notes that firms in both the U.S. and Europe still cannot find enough qualified IT workers to fill all available positions.

  • "Parts Shortages Take Huge Toll on Tech Sales"
    Los Angeles Times (08/31/00) P. A1; Menn, Joseph

    A shortage in electronic components stemming from high demand for electronic products is expected to last beyond the holiday season, well into 2001. Many commercial laptops will lack online music-to-CD recording capability, and new devices such as the latest Palm handheld computer will be unavailable in stores. The potential sales loss throughout the computer industry could total billions of dollars. Worldwide computer sales revenue may suffer a four percent to eight percent drop from projected sales for this year, says International Data analyst Roger Kay. Companies attributing losses in revenue to the shortage include Compaq, Dell, Sony, Ericsson, Nintendo, Hasbro, and Matsushita. Demand for new products has overtaken parts capacity and development time due to the U.S. economic boom over the last 10 years, suppliers say. Over-ordering and hoarding of components is one typical response to the shortages. Furthermore, parts in high demand range through the entire technological spectrum, from high-end to low-end. Demand for components used in multiple industries is at the core of this shortage. The surprising demand for newer products is expected to keep the shortage running for at least six months or a year, according to analysts. Corporate customers are vying for long-term commitments from parts suppliers in order to secure materials to sustain them throughout the shortage.

  • "IT Group Prepares Fall Congressional Agenda"
    Newsbytes (08/31/00); MacMillan, Robert

    A number of high-tech lobbying groups are readying their agendas as Congress' summer recess winds down. The American Electronics Association (AEA) will hold a news conference on Sept. 5 to highlight its agenda, which includes issues such as Internet taxes and the shortage of workers in the U.S. IT sector, the latter its most pressing area of concern. The AEA also has a strong interest in Internet privacy and digital signatures. Many members of the tech industry are growing frustrated with the tortoise-like progress of the Helping to Improve Technology Education and Achievement Act, which appears to lack the momentum necessary to make it out of this congressional session. The act, sponsored by Reps. David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), would make more H-1B visas available to foreign IT workers.

  • "System Creates 'Robotic Life'--Automatically"
    Washington Post (08/31/00) P. A1; Suplee, Curt

    Scientists at Brandeis University have made a major breakthrough in the push to create artificial life through a computerized system that automatically designs and builds robotic life forms capable of motion. The robots are simple arrangements of plastic parts a few inches long that use tiny motors to creep across a horizontal surface, but their creation "is a long-awaited and necessary step toward the ultimate dream of self-evolving machines," says head of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab Rodney Brooks. Using evolution as a model, Brandeis researchers Jordan B. Pollack and Hod Lipson wrote a computer program that can produce virtual models of robotic structures, determine which models are best suited for movement, and then order a plastic fabricating machine to construct the robots from the accepted designs. The entire creative process only takes a couple hours. In the design phase, the computer chooses robotic structures at random. As in the evolutionary process, each subsequent generation of robots is given mutations by the computer until a structure that can successfully move is selected and built. The only actual human involvement in the process is the hardware connection of the robots. Researchers expect significant economic impact as this technology becomes more sophisticated. An industry of computer-aided design and production of such mechanisms could appear within five to 10 years, according to Pollack. These robots will eventually need full autonomy to sustain their own evolution, write the Brandeis researchers in the August 31 issue of Nature.

  • "Microsoft's Entreaty to Silicon Valley: 'Can't We All Be Friends?'"
    Wall Street Journal (09/01/00) P. B1; Buckman, Rebecca

    Microsoft is renewing its attempts to establish a friendly presence in Silicon Valley, the home of numerous startups that could become valuable customers, but also the home of its chief rivals, Sun Microsystems and Oracle. Although protesters greeted Microsoft's new outreach office at its opening two years ago, the company has proceeded to build a new corporate campus and a new technology center in Mountain View, Calif. Now, the company is trying to soften its public image among local firms and the surrounding community, sending emissaries to corporate parties and even petitioning for better roads. Senior Vice President Jon DeVaan says, "We want to be a part of the community...and help where we can." However, the company's push into Silicon Valley also reflects its desire to reposition itself for the post-desktop computer market. In recent years, many Silicon Valley firms have abandoned Windows for more network-friendly platforms such as Linux or Unix. Microsoft, led by new CEO Steve Ballmer, believes its new .NET strategy will give these firms a reason to switch platforms and looks to startup seeUthere.com, which last year dumped Unix for Windows, as an early example. Analysts also believe that Microsoft's large cash reserves could appeal to startups seeking venture capital. Although many Silicon Valley executives remain unconvinced by the company's new efforts, some say it is a relief to be working with the software giant instead of being intimidated by it.

  • "A Wave of the Hand May Soon Make a Computer Jump to Obey"
    New York Times (08/31/00) P. E7; Eisenberg, Anne

    Researchers are now developing technology that allows computers to understand and respond to common human gestures. "Hand gestures-and eventually full body and facial information-are the natural complement to speech communication with a computer," says Dr. Jakub Segen of Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs. Segen is working to improve video conferencing by equipping computers with cameras that observe users and software that recognizes meaningful aspects of gestures. Segen's system creates characters on the screen that imitate a user's gestures for other conference participants to see. For example, if the speaker's hand is raised to make a point, the character will raise its hand as well. In addition to video conferencing, Segen last year conducted a digital orchestra using cameras to monitor his hand movements and software that interpreted the motions to create tempos for digital instruments. Another gesture technology researcher, Dr. Charles J. Cohen of Cybernet Systems Corporation, created a system that interprets circular hand motions for NASA and the Army. The Army uses Cohen's system to teach scouts to use secret hand signals that convey messages to troops. Meanwhile, NASA is creating gesture-based kiosk screens that would let users, for example, rotate an image of a space station by making a circular hand motion. Gesture-driven screens avoid the dirt and wear that affect touch screens, and are also easier for users, NASA says.

  • "UN: Net Growing Third World Biz"
    Wired News (08/30/00); Yap, Diana Michele

    Findings at the seventh United Nations' World Summit for Young Entrepreneurs indicate that women in Third World countries that uphold conservative female roles are nevertheless empowering themselves by using the Internet when starting businesses. The Internet offers market access, information, inexpensive communication, and is nondiscriminatory when venture capital is sought, said United Nations Development Fund for Women deputy director Flavia Pansieri. Furthermore, the technology enables women to form and sustain partnerships, exchange information, access e-commerce, and control products, says U.N. Development Programme head of gender development Aster Zaoude. Many women find it easier to conceal their identity online, thereby making it easier to initiate or make deals. But women must master the technology in order to take advantage of it, Pansieri said. Knowledge of international funding opportunities is also crucial, since many are targeted at women in developing countries. Online communication levels the playing field for women by generating grassroots activism around gender equality, said Women's International Net assistant editor Joy Pincus. In addition, women in Third World countries can use the Internet to discuss issues usually suppressed by their nations.

  • "Free Music, Free Ride?"
    Economist (08/26/00) Vol. 356, No. 8185, P. 76

    File-sharing services such as Napster and Gnutella, already fighting copyright battles with the recording industry, might soon face a disgruntled user community as the result of a recent study showing that most users take files without contributing any material in return. Researchers Eytan Adar and Bernardo Huberman of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center this month studied the traffic on Gnutella over a 24-hour period, finding that 70 percent of users offered no files to download. The study found that 20 percent of users offered 98 percent of the files to download, and just 1 percent of users contributed 40 percent of the shared material. This small percentage of users offers not only files, but also Internet bandwidth to other users who ransack their hard drives. If this is not deterrent enough, generous Gnutella users might note that the disparity means that the Recording Industry Association of America could sue individual users much more easily than previously thought by targeting only the few users who contribute most of the files to the system. Some new approaches to file sharing are emerging that seek to curb free-loading users. For example, hackers are rumored to be creating software that restricts the number of files a computer can download from another system. Meanwhile, Aimster, a new sharing service that merges Gnutella with America Online's Instant Messenger, provides a private file-sharing community that lets users exchange files only with people on their buddy lists. The Aimster approach allows users to detect those who are not contributing equally and might offer some legal protection under the fair use provision of U.S. copyright law, which allows users to share copyrighted material with friends. Another service called Mojo Nation ensures equal contributions by requiring users to share the same amount of files, storage space, and bandwidth as they take.

  • "H-1B Fees Pay for High-Tech Training"
    Computerworld (08/28/00) Vol. 34, No. 35, P. 14; Dash, Julekha

    The U.S. Department of Labor this year is awarding $80 million in grants to local high-tech training programs, using part of the $500 fee paid by H-1B visa applicants. The grants aim to alleviate the IT labor shortage by training citizens to fill jobs in areas such as Web programming and database administration. The Labor Department has given away roughly half of the money and intends to award all of the grants by October. Last month the agency awarded $29 million, which will help train an estimated 5,000 workers. One grant recipient, the San Francisco City Private Industry Council, will use the money to provide 250 citizens, mostly low-income workers and minorities, with seven months of high-tech training. Baltimore County recently received a $2.5 million grant, and plans to use half the money to enable companies to train existing workers and the other half to train unemployed and non-IT workers.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Fighting the Good Fight: Enforcing Copyright Law on the Web"
    Interactive Week (08/28/00) Vol. 7, No. 34, P. 40; Long, Marion

    Copyright law continues to perplex the information technology industry. Some market observers believe technology will be the solution, while others are convinced that Congress will eventually weigh in on the matter. Still, there are other experts who believe the Internet has rendered the copyright issue so complex that there is no way the law can survive. For example, the Napster case shows that the emergence of technology with decentralized structures makes it almost impossible for the law to go after people stealing music online. Moreover, Napster's legal battle reveals that the new generation of consumers does not share the old views about copyright law. For any law to work, most people have to follow it, says New York Times general counsel Kenneth Richieri. From a historical perspective, the legislature tends to intervene in matters involving emerging technologies once disputing parties take their issue to court for further clarification. Patent and trademark attorney Laura Goldbard believes the Copyright Act will be amended and it will favor copyright holders, even though a large number of computer users downloading intellectual property are not seeking to make a profit off of the work of other people. However, Richieri does not foresee 15-year-old kids and other ordinary citizens being hauled away for copyright violations. He adds that public awareness and educational campaigns about the law should make a difference, as should encryption technology. Market observers already have witnessed the growth of the digital rights management industry. Electronic watermarks and hidden copyright information in files, for example, could also become hot solutions for protecting copyrights online.
    For information regarding ACM's work in the area of intellectual property, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/copyright.

  • "The Power of Peer-to-Peer"
    InformationWeek (08/28/00) No. 801,; McDougall, Paul

    Peer-to-peer computing, which recently entered the public spotlight because of Napster, is gaining popularity among corporations as a way to tap the unused processing power of desktop PCs. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Intel are among the high-tech giants that have recently thrown their support behind the concept by forming the Peer-to-Peer Working Group, which will attempt to bring the technology to corporations by addressing issues such as standards, security, and reliability. Most firms now use less than 25 percent of their computing power and storage capacity, according to University of Wisconsin researchers, who are creating a distributed computing technology called Condor. With peer-to-peer technology, companies can reduce the need to purchase powerful systems such as mainframes and might be able to lower bandwidth requirements as well. Furthermore, peer-to-peer computing can open new opportunities for conducting business by enabling small groups to communicate securely on the fly. While some peer-to-peer networks such as Napster use servers to direct traffic, others link desktops over an IP network without relying on servers. Some experts say the latter model is more reliable because it eliminates a single point of failure. A startup called Uprizer next month plans to start offering a business-to-business file-sharing service that runs on networks without servers. Meanwhile, Boeing is using servers in its peer-to-peer technology that takes extra Mips from systems on the network to handle complex performance tests. Amerada Hess is also using peer-to-peer computing in its Beowulf Project, which links 200 Linux-based Dell desktops over an Ethernet network to interpret seismic data. The distributed system runs seven times the throughput at a much lower cost than the two IBM supercomputers previously used for the task, says Amerada Hess CIO Richard Ross. Intel has lowered the cost of designing chips by using a peer-to-peer system called NetBatch that links 10,000 computers to provide engineers with access to distributed processing power.

  • "Who Says the PC Is Dead?"
    U.S. News & World Report (09/04/00) Vol. 129, No. 9, P. 40; Vogelstein, Fred; Vajjhala, Surekha

    Intel is relying on file-sharing technology to save the PC now that the company has formed a peer-to-peer working group of more than a dozen startups, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard. The giant chipmaker is so convinced that file-sharing software will be the next big thing that it is also setting up a Web site to promote the technology and provide money and resources to existing peer-to-peer companies and to start new firms. Although computing power has been transferred to large servers of rivals like Sun Microsystems, Intel believes that file-sharing technology will enable the company to recapture its market position because peer-to-peer technology returns computing power to the desktop in that millions of computers connected to the Internet are allowed act as a corporate network. In addition to Sun, companies that rely on huge, centralized servers have something to lose with the emergence of file-sharing technology. Such companies could include eBay, when computer users start searching each other's computers for classified listings and performing their own auctions. America Online and Yahoo! could lose out to file-sharing as well. Furthermore, file-sharing technology could allow computer users to store credit card, tax, or Social Security records on their home computers, which would mean that the government and companies would need permission to access such personal information. Intel's Pat Gelsinger sees the technology as the next Mosaic (the first Web browser) because it could serve as another "spark that changes all our perspectives" on the digital era.

  • "Foreign Nations Outpace U.S. in Outsourcing"
    Washington Technology (08/28/00) Vol. 15, No. 11, P. 1; Wakeman, Nick

    European governments have been quicker than the United States to outsource IT projects, in a move to boost efficiency while coping with the IT labor shortage. Outsourcing spending by central governments in Europe is growing by 17 percent, while the U.S. federal government's outsourcing spending is growing by 7 percent. One recent, high-profile example is the United Kingdom grant of a $3 billion outsourcing contract to a team led by U.S.-based Electronic Data Systems (EDS). EDS, along with IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers, will supply the U.K. Department of Social Services with software application development services. IBM's Jack Winters calls the United Kingdom an outsourcing leader, saying, "It is starting to pick up in the rest of Europe, but not on the scale of the U.K." Although European outsourcing growth is higher, the U.S. federal government--including the U.S. Army, NASA, and the Internal Revenue Service--is also increasingly using outsourcing as a way to improve government services, from human resources to procurement.

  • "Anonymity and the Internet"
    Futurist (08/00) Vol. 34, No. 4, P. 12; Johnson, Dan

    The Internet and its communication opportunities present a problem to users and government policy makers--preserving the freedom to communicate anonymously online while holding accountable those who abuse the privilege. The American Association for the Advancement of Science's Mark S. Frankel notes that the issue does not lend itself to quick or easy solutions, in terms of technology or policy. Those who abuse Internet anonymity are those who send hate mail and spam, engage in criminal acts, disrupt chat rooms, impersonate others, and make false accusations. But online anonymity also protects those seeking help with problems or blowing the whistle, and it can expand discussions on public issues. Frankel, the director of the association's Scientific Freedom, Responsibility, and Law Program, says an association conference held on the topic in 1997 concluded that the positive value of anonymous communication was more important than the dangers of its abuse. Frankel suggests that online communities determine how much anonymity to permit members. Protecting against Internet abusers could include punishing the originators of anonymous messages, but not the remailer operators; requiring remailers to keep records of their operations and to sometimes allow the police to see these records; permitting law enforcement authorities to decode encrypted messages, but only under certain circumstances, and with a court-ordered search warrant or subpoena; negotiating international agreements to criminalize money laundering, data theft, and electronic vandalism; and educating the public about the dangers of anonymous messages.
    For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.

[ Archives ] [ Home ]