Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 15, 2001

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Issue 15, 2001

This week's headlines:

Scientists build tiny computer from DNA
November 21, 2001

Scientists at Israel's Weizmann Institute have built a computer so tiny that a trillion of them could fit in a test tube and perform a billion operations per second with 99.8 per cent accuracy. The computer's input, output and software are all made up of DNA molecules - the material that stores and processes encoded information in living organisms.

Scientists see such DNA computers as future competitors to their more conventional cousins because miniaturisation is reaching its limits and DNA has the potential to be much faster than conventional computers.

The invention could form the basis of a future DNA computer that could operate within human cells and act as a monitoring device to detect potentially disease-causing changes and synthesise drugs to fix them.

DNA can hold more information in a cubic centimetre than a trillion CDs. The double helix molecule that contains human genes, stores data on four chemical bases - A, T, C and G - giving it massive memory capability that scientists are only just beginning to tap into.

Full story: Yahoo / Reuters Back to top

Innovation gap between EU and US widens
November 22, 2001

Underperformance in the field of innovation and slower introduction of information and communication technologies are major factors behind Europe's widening standard of living gap with the United States.

The EU's Competitiveness Report 2001 reveals that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head in the EU is now less than two thirds of that in the US, the widest gap since the 1960s.

A large part of the EU's lower standard of living is seen as being due to higher employment in the US. While this has increased strongly in recent years, the Union is losing out in labour productivity measured by value of output per employed person.

Investment in capital goods, in IT skills, and organisational reforms are seen as the answer to improving labour productivity. ICT investment in the EU's business sector have been smaller than in the US - in 1999, 2.4 per cent of GDP against 4.5 per cent in the US.

Full report at:

Full story: EUbusiness Back to top

UN task force formed to address global tech gap
November 21, 2001

A new UN task force on technology pledged Tuesday to fight poverty, improve education and create jobs by expanding access to the internet and other communications tools in the developing world.

Task force and UN officials believe technology will be important in fighting poverty, illiteracy, AIDS and societal ills identified during last year's UN Millennium Summit.

One of the task force's ideas involves giving developing countries free or subsidised access to the excess capacity the industrialised nations have in low-orbiting satellites. The task force also can help individual countries develop their technology strategies.

The 43-member task force is made of corporate executives, UN and government officials and leaders of nonprofit organisations that work on closing the gap between countries with and without access to technology.

Full story: CNN / AP Back to top

Internet connectivity on the rise in Europe's schools
November 19, 2001

New figures on internet connectivity in schools in three EU Member States show that Germany and the UK have succeeded in increasing the number of web-connected schools, but still lag behind Sweden.

In Germany some 35,000 schools have an internet connection and the last secondary school was connected in October of this year. In the UK, 96 per cent of primary schools are connected and now have one computer for every 11.8 pupils, compared with 17.6 in 1998. Secondary schools have one computer for every 7.1 pupils.

Sweden remains far ahead in Europe. However, access is not always equal across the country. 86 per cent of primary schools and 95 per cent of upper secondary schools are now connected, but access varies according to ethnic background, gender, age, education, income and housing area.

For further information, see:

Full story: Cordis Back to top

Microsoft settles private antitrust cases
November 21, 2001

Microsoft reached a settlement on Tuesday with lawyers pursuing more than 100 private antitrust lawsuits against the software giant. The company will provide free software and computers to approximately 14,000 schools in low-income areas.

The five-year agreement - which will require Microsoft to donate $500m to schools for grants, training, and technical support, as well as provide the free equipment, which will likely be valued at more than $1bn - could lead to dismissal of all private class-action suits against the company if a federal judge approves the deal.

The software and grants will go to all US public schools that have more than 70 per cent of students earning federal subsidies for school lunches, which will cover approximately 7m students in approximately 14 per cent of all schools.

Full story: Financial Times Back to top

Cut down on cookies, advertisers told
November 19, 2001

Internet application vendor BroadVision is backing European parliament proposals to restrict the use of cookies. The software maker, whose customers include BT, Vodafone and Dixons, has agreed that third party cookies that are tied to advertising should be banned.

BroadVision slammed comments made by UK's Internet Advertising Bureau that the internet industry would suffer heavy losses if the amendments receive final approval from MEPs.

''It's time the whole business realised that if you have personal data, you must give some value back,'' said Alan Ranger, marketing director at BroadVision. ''I do not think restrictions on cookies will affect corporates with an online presence at all.''

However, BroadVision does not back a total ban, as user-permitted cookies speed up the navigating experience for web users. ''There should be a balance between intrusion and convenience,'' Ranger said.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

Nokia opens up its phones
November 19, 2001

Finnish phone giant Nokia has founded an alliance that will share information about the workings of handsets to ensure that forthcoming services can be used by any phone owner. The alliance has also agreed to co-operate with a coalition of computer companies working on ways to make it easy to access data while on the move.

Nokia unveiled the ''open mobile architecture initiative'' at last week's Comdex trade show. Nokia has pledged to reveal the workings of the software controlling its handsets to members of the alliance.

With all phones working to a common set of specifications, it should become easier for network operators to offer services to more customers. The alliance is particularly interested in ensuring that future third-generation phones can use the widest set of services possible.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

New sensor chip 'sniffs' dangerous gases
November 19, 2001

Scientists at three European universities have developed a chip that can ''sniff'' dangerous gases, paving the way for wallet-card-sized sensing devices.

The prototype, which integrates three different kinds of gas sensors on a single chip, could be used to detect organic solvents leaking from containers, or for safety monitoring in the chemical industry, the researchers said in an article published in the journal Nature.

The sensor technology is implemented on a single 7 by 7 millimetre silicon chip, making it suitable for low-cost mass production, according to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, which teamed on the project with the universities of Tuebingen, Germany, and Bologna, Italy.

The prototype is part of a project to develop a palm-sized gas analysis device, the Institute said.

Full story: CNN / IDG Back to top

Finally! A way to block cell phone rings
November 21, 2001

A Hong Kong company hopes to sell signal jamming technology, previously used by the military to thwart lethal missiles, to block annoying cell phone calls in places such as hospitals, cinemas and restaurants.

''This is a way to enforce the etiquette of mobile phone usage where polite persuasion has failed,'' Paul Kan, chairman of Champion Technology Holdings, said at the launch of its MuteTone product.

Champion, which has modified the device for commercial use, hopes to sell the mobile signal blocking device in about 50 countries. The device sells for around $1,600.

The response from would-be customers so far has been encouraging, Kan said, although his company has not yet been able to surmount regulatory hurdles in its home base of Hong Kong.

Full story: ZDNet / Reuters Back to top

TV 'Time Machine' sparks controversy
November 19, 2001

A machine that ''squeezes'' television shows including news programming so that broadcasters can fit in extra commercials is stirring controversy in the industry in the United States.

The Time Machine's patented technology shears seconds off of programming by editing out repetitive video frames in real time. With most TV shows running at 30 frames per second, a missing frame here or there is undetectable to viewers, but the accumulated time enables a station to insert an additional 20- to 30-second commercial.

People in the TV industry say there is nothing controversial about using such a device during a local news show. It is more of a problem, they say, when a station uses it on programming from an outside source, such as a professional sports organisation, that has strict limits on local commercials.

Full story: IFRA Trend Report / Wall Street Journal Back to top

Email increases use of paper
November 19, 2001

Far from heralding the dawn of the paperless office, email has increased paper use by 40 per cent, according to new research.

Professor Richard Harper of the University of Surrey, co-author of the report said that putting new technologies in place rather simply shifts the point at which documents are printed out.

Harper slated e-book designers for not paying enough attention to the needs of readers to navigate through, mark up and work across many documents as they read. Looking at paper use suggests innovative ways forward for digital reading as well as for other technologies.

Co-author of the report, Abigail Sellen, senior research analyst at HP's laboratories, added: ''Until such time as digital technologies can provide equal or better support for many of the tasks that are central to using information, the future for paper continues to look bright.''

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

FBI runs Trojan horse
November 21, 2001

The FBI may be in possession of software capable of remotely compromising a suspect's computer and installing a keylogger to harvest encryption key passwords.

A report on the so-called 'Magic Lantern' software by MSNBC reveals that the tool operates much like a Trojan horse. It arrives in an email and then installs itself invisibly and sets up a keylogger which presumably captures such data as the pass code for an encryption program such as PGP and forwards it to the FBI.

However, the online tech community has met the news with much derision and slammed the software on its scant technical detail. ''This only works if: a) The FBI kicks in your door and installs Outlook; b) You always open email with the subject 'Snow White and the 7 FBI Agents'; c) You run the attachment called 'FBILOVESYOU.VBS','' came one humorous retort.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top