Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 12, 2001

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Issue 12, 2001

This week's headlines:



Europe considers banning ''cookies''
October 31, 2001

The ''cookie'', a simplistic identification tag that most users unknowingly carry when surfing the web, runs the risk of being outlawed under a proposed privacy directive from the European Commission. The legislation has triggered concern in Europe's internet advertising community claiming it will cause substantial losses in revenues.

The legislation claims the cookie is a threat to consumers' privacy as it collects data on their comings and goings without asking for their consent. The Commission has been debating whether individuals should have the last word - the ''opt in'' method - on what bits of personal information are collected on them while online. Experts, however, say cookies are an essential piece of internet browsing architecture.

The proposal is scheduled to go for a vote on November 13 before the European Parliament plenary assembly. Meanwhile, the Interactive Advertising Bureau UK (IAB), has marshalled support from its members across Europe to launch a lobbying effort it calls ''Save our Cookies''.

Full story: Wired News / Reuters Back to top


Microsoft, US close to deal
November 01, 2001

US federal prosecutors and Microsoft lawyers have reached agreement on most of a settlement pact in the long- running antitrust suit against the company, people involved in the talks said on Wednesday.

Some important points remain unresolved, they said, including the details of how Microsoft would be forced to share technical information with industry partners and rivals. Another issue is whether the 18 states that joined the suit can be persuaded to join any settlement.

In the settlement talks Microsoft has shown a willingness to eliminate restrictive contract terms and pricing deals with PC-makers, people involved in the talks said. In theory, such a settlement would restrain Microsoft's use of its monopoly power and foster increased competition.

The settlement calls for a five-year consent decree between the government and Microsoft governing the company's conduct with the possibility of a two-year extension if the company violates the terms of the agreement.

Full story: San Fransico Chronicle / AP Back to top


Tech firms face months of gloom
November 01, 2001

The technology industry is showing few signs of recovery. More bad news was delivered this week by market research firm Gartner Dataquest which revealed that the number of PCs shipped in Western Europe has fallen for the second consecutive quarter.

Over the last three months the shipments of PCs in Europe fell by 11 per cent compared to the same period in 2000. The fall was blamed on large companies postponing or cancelling orders and smaller organisations deciding they do not need new computers.

The biggest fall was recorded in Germany where shipments were down 15.2 per cent. The only regions taking on more computers than during the same period last year were Italy (up 10 per cent) and Russia (up 50.4 per cent).

Full story: BBC News Back to top


New life for '.us' suffix
October 29, 2001

The US Commerce Department selected NeuStar on Monday to run domain names ending in ''.us.'' With the announcement comes the ability to get non-geographic addresses such as ''clothingstore.us'', rather than the more cumbersome ''clothingstore.los-angeles.ca.us''.

The new rules, expected to take effect early next year, are designed to get more use out of ''.us''. Country code suffixes such as ''.fr'' for France have been sources of national pride worldwide, but in the US it is the forgotten stepchild compared with ''.com''.

NeuStar officials are hoping to change that attitude and said recent terrorism events may give ''.us'' even more of a boost. The ''.us'' domain name will be restricted to US residents and companies or organisations that operate in the US, though the system will rely partly on self-certification and is not foolproof.

Full story: Nando Times / AP Back to top


Press standards group approves new format for transmitting articles
October 30, 2001

A news industry standards body has approved an updated specification for the delivery of news stories, making it easier to reuse a single story for a variety of formats, including print, wireless devices and the web.

The International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) ratified version 3.0 of the News Industry Text Format (NITF) standard. The new version has several enhancements, such as the ability to more accurately format tabular material, including weather tables, stock listings, sports statistics, election data and TV listings.

The IPTC also released a draft version of a new standard it is developing to format sports stories and statistics. The IPTC is seeking comment from news organisations and sports leagues on version 0.5 of SportsML, or Sports Markup Language.

Both NITF and SportsML use XML, to format text and are designed to be compatible with another IPTC standard called NewsML, which packages text stories, audio, video, photos and other content.

Full story: Nando Times / AP Back to top


E-mail lists get virus protection
October 30, 2001

L-Soft International, maker of the popular Listserv e-mail list software, and antivirus company F-Secure announced a deal on Monday by which F-Secure's antivirus will check every attachment sent using the Listserv software in an attempt to stop the spread of viruses.

When a subscriber to a mailing list that uses Listserv sends a message to the list, the e-mail is first routed to the e-mail server that hosts the list and is then rebroadcast to everyone subscribed to that list. Because this process is usually automatic, attachments that contain viruses might be re-sent to all subscribers.

The deal announced by the two companies, however, will see every attachment sent through Listserv scanned by F-Secure's three antivirus scanning engines. If a virus is found, the message will not be sent.

The new antivirus feature will be made available to L-Soft's Windows 2000 and Linux Listserv customers for free. Over 190,000 lists, with 60 million subscribers, are run using Listserv, according to L-Soft.

Full story: CNN / IDG Back to top


IBM to spend billions on artificial intelligence project
October 28, 2001

IBM will spend $2bn on an artificial intelligence (AI) project called ''Eliza''. The project won the name because its aim is to create a computer with the intelligence of a lizard within a few years. Longer-term targets are to challenge human intelligence levels by making a computer with the processing power of the human nervous system.

The project is part of an emerging area of IT development known as ''autonomic computing'', which attempts to improve the performance of computers and networks by emulating functions that appear in the natural world. IBM will send 75,000 copies of its ''autonomic manifesto'' to the world's best minds in an effort to involve as many researchers as possible.

So far AI projects have focused too tightly on building ''thinking machines'', IBM says. By emulating things like touch and sight they have concentrated on the wrong body functions. The fundamental idea is that computers will become vastly more efficient if they are given the ''intelligence'' to perform a range of tasks without being told to do so.

Full story: The Independent Back to top


Open resource supercomputer up and running
October 30, 2001

The world's most powerful system committed to unclassified research, a six teraflop terascale supercomputer, is up and running on schedule at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC).

Terascale refers to computational power beyond a teraflop - a trillion calculations per second. The PSC system is said to be the most powerful to date designed as an open resource for scientists attacking a variety of problems. This means it is available to researchers at US academic institutions and/or in industry who publish their research and share their findings with the international research community.

The brain of the six-teraflop system is a network of 3000 micro- processors. The terascale system features three terabytes of memory, high-bandwidth and capabilities for large-scale data handling.

The Terascale Computing System (TCS) will be used in areas of research including earthquake modelling, storm-scale weather forecasting, global climate change and protein genomics, modelling that is integral to the development of new drug therapies.

Full story: VNUNet UK Back to top


Firm invents direct satellite-PC broadcast system
October 29, 2001

A British firm says it has invented a system to broadcast video direct from satellites to individual computers. Called EnfoCast, the system is claimed to be one million times cheaper than broadband web streaming, as well as faster and with higher quality pictures.

Compatible with any Windows 95 or later operating system, it has been developed by Enformatica and is already capable of providing channels such as CNN and BBC News 24 to its subscribers.

Enfocast also provides file delivery and management for video-on-demand systems, and allows users to integrate local content (in addition to the broadcast content). From the small-dish satellite Ethernet router, the system connects directly to existing Lans and Windows workstations, the firm said.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top


Steganography in the digital age
October 30, 2001

The investigation of the terrorist attacks on the US is drawing new attention to a stealthy method of sending messages through the Internet. Steganography, Greek for ''hidden writing'', can conceal messages in digital photographs or in music files but leave no outward trace that the files were altered.

The idea of steganography is to take advantage of the fact that digital files can be slightly altered and still look the same to the human eye or sound the same to the human ear. The only way to spot such an alteration is with computer programs that can notice statistical deviations from the expected patterns of data in the image or music.

One limitation in published steganography detection programs is that often they miss images hidden in the most frequently used format, JPEG. It is hard to see evidence of steganography in such files because the detection methods look for statistical evidence that an image's data have been distorted. But JPEG files are distorted by their very nature — the digital data are altered when the files are compressed.

Full story: New York Times Back to top


Digital doubles debut
November 01, 2001

No matter how many different gadgets and technologies you use to keep in touch with friends and family, soon you could be using one digital double to represent you on all of them.

British company Digimask has developed a method for creating a virtual twin that can be used to accompany text messages on mobile phones, turn e-mail messages into personalised greetings, act as an animated screensaver on your PC, and even represent you in online game worlds.

The three-dimensional model is created from just two digital images - one full-face and the other a profile - to create a digital double. The technology fills in the space between the two to create a 3-D image. Behind the image is a representation of facial muscles that Digimask claims makes it much more realistic and animated than other avatars.

People will be able to make their own animated heads perform the messages they are sending and use simple software tools to enhance them with outlandish expressions and gestures.

Full story: BBC News Back to top


Sex and the cell phone-deprived
October 31, 2001

Living without a mobile phone can cause sexual problems and a blow to confidence, Italian researchers said.

Codacons, a consumer association in Italy, took away the mobile phones of 300 volunteers for 15 days and studied their reactions.

About 70 per cent of the volunteers said they ''could not live without the device'', while a quarter of them said the lack of the device was a blow to their confidence and led to sexual problems with partners. As many as 48 of the 300 volunteers in Ischia, Italy, said they refused sex during the study.

Some of the other side effects reported included loss of appetite and depression. Only 30 per cent of the volunteers said they felt no effect from having their mobile phones taken away.

Full story: Wired News Back to top


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