And Now for Something Completely Different

I want to give you an update on one of the most critical issues of our time in technology and copyright, the move toward local legislation to regulate information exchange on the Internet. In addition, I want to feature two trends that you are likely to encounter sooner rather than later: browsers appearing in places other than computers, and the buzz word of the new century—nanotech. Enjoy the summer. Peace.

Think Globally, Act Locally
In previous columns I have described the potential impact and some of the implications of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The proponents of making it illegal to bypass copyright protection schemes have been working diligently at the state level, leading to the potential patchwork of legal statutes with wide-ranging rules about what can and cannot be done in the face of equally varied copy-protection schemes. What has made these actions of greater concern is that they have escaped the notice of many whom, tending to the national debate, have missed local legislation.

What are these legislative initiatives seeking? More than you might expect. From the language in the legislation passed in several states so far: If you use a firewall, or have Network Address Translation (NAT), you are breaking the law, at least in the state of Michigan as of March 31, 2003. The relevant passage in these bills, which are all remarkably similar in their language (a clue) bans the possession, sale, or use of technologies that "conceal from a communication service provider … the existence or place of origin or destination of any communication." That applies to you as well as your ISP. Legislation with similar language is pending in Massachusetts, Colorado, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alaska (as of early April 2003).

Network Address Translation (NAT)

NAT is the translation of an Internet Protocol (IP) address used within one network to a different IP address known within another network. (See www.whatis.com.)

The language in these bills is quite similar. If you were grading papers you would be suspicious—and your suspicions would be well founded. The common thread is advocacy at the state level by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). An interview between Jack Valenti, President of MPAA, and the Harvard Political Review (HPR) in January of this year, gives you some insight into their concern:

HPR: The MPAA has backed several bills mandating copy prevention technologies. Critics have lambasted these bills for curbing consumer's "fair use" rights, including the ability to make back-up copies. How can we balance the interests of consumers and the movie industry?

JV: What is fair use? Fair use is not a law. There's nothing in law. Right now, any professor can show a complete movie in his classroom without paying a dime—that's fair use. What is not fair use is making a copy of an encrypted DVD, because once you're able to break the encryption, you've undermined the encryption itself.

HPR: Even if breaking the encryption is for a legitimate purpose, to make a back-up copy?

JV: But you've already got a DVD. It lasts forever. It never wears out. In the digital world, we don't need back-ups, because a digital copy never wears out. It is timeless.

(http://www.hpronline.org/news/347207.html, retrieved March 30, 2003.)

I'd have to guess Jack hasn't had CD failure. Of course, the focus of this exchange was around the right of the consumer to copy something that they owned, not borrowed or downloaded. Unfortunately, the language in the state proposals is much broader. Some of the things that are potentially criminal acts under these laws, which are in Michigan, include:

  • Copying headlines from news and distributing them to others.
  • Using a VPN connection through your ISP to connect back to your campus.
  • Removing spyware installed by a software package you've downloaded (e.g., KaZaa).
  • Using ad-blocking software to "interfere" with the normal operation of a Web site.

Whether these dystopian interpretations of local laws under consideration or enacted come to pass depends on three key provisions they share. First, a prohibition from using a communication provider without paying the "normal rate." Second, tampering with or modifying a communication device, whether you own it or not. Third, hiding from a communication service provider, or from any lawful authority, the existence or place of origin or destination of any communication. The provisions in these so-called "Super DMCA" legislative proposals affect all of us, whether we're in higher education, K-12, or are citizens in the states considering them. Following the same guideline is in all of our best interests: think globally, act locally.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

VPN is a way to use a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the Internet, to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization's network.

Browsing Your TV
Technology trends are often visible first in Asia and Europe. One that appears on the horizon is delivering television to the home or school using the Internet Protocol, in particular IP version 6. The idea is to use low-cost IP networks to deliver video signals, such as television, with extreme high quality (significantly better than DVD). More than 30 telecommunications companies have entered into this market with products that work with either asymmetric subscriber line (ASDL) or fiber to the home (FTTH) networks. The technology to deliver video via IP has become another opportunity for browser developers.

One such browser is Opera (www.opera.com). Opera was developed initially as a research project by Norway's telecom company, Telenor, in 1994, and branched out into an independent development company named Opera Software ASA in 1995. The Opera browser will be used in an interactive TV box from PlatC2, a company in the Japanese IP television industry. The PlatC2's Broadband Terminal Box will use Opera as middleware, presenting all applications and menus in HTML, Java, and cascading style sheets (CSS). PlatC2 is designed to decode MPEG-2 video streams from high-bandwidth network connections. With it running you can fill in HTML forms, navigate the screen with cursor buttons or a mouse, and select among the compressed video sources made available to you.

This is just one step toward getting browsers into all sorts of devices, from refrigerators to cell phones. Sony Ericsson's P800 cell phone, for example, uses Opera to provide a full browsing capability. Of course, it's not limited to cell phones either. The Sharp Zaurus PDA features the Opera browser, as well. What's different about the approach on small devices is that it d'esn't require an intermediate server to reformat Web pages so they can be displayed, as is the case for cell phones using the more common Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) technology. This approach requires regular HTML pages to be reformatted using Wireless Markup Language (WML) and to do that requires inserting a server to perform this service and deliver the translated pages. Opera, on the other hand, uses its Small-Screen Rendering technology, which makes formatting decisions in the browser itself after receiving regular HTML pages, including those with style sheets and JavaScript.

If the trend toward broadband access to the home continues (from 2001 to 2002 it grew 57 percent), the tentacles of the Web will be found not just in computers and PDAs, but phones, Internet audio devices, and TVs.

One Word—Plastics … errr Nanotech
Perhaps one of the most over-hyped technologies at the start of the 21st century is the collection of research that is known as nanotechnology. Nanotechnology derives its name from the size of the objects under study, which is anything that is really, really, small. Nano is, of course, the prefix indicating something that is a billionth of a meter, the size of 10 hydrogen atoms placed end-to-end. Nanotechnology encompasses the manipulation of atoms to do things, whether it's in technology, materials science, medicine, or manufacturing. Sizes of that dimension tread the divide between the weird attributes of quantum physics and the more familiar Newtonian world.

You may already be using nanotechnology. High-density disk storage arrays have used magnetoresistive heads since they were introduced in 1997. Even earlier, before the term became the futuristic moniker for high-tech investment, tire manufacturers injected nano-sized carbon molecules into rubber to improve its strength. More recently, nanotechnology has added stain resistance to fabrics that are made into slacks advertised recently by an upscale outdoor clothing company ("Nano-Care" from Eddie Bauer). Even going to the beach to soak up some rays may be a nanotech experience: Nanophase Technologies Corp. produces nano-size zinc oxide particles for use in sunscreen, making the usually white-colored cream transparent because the tiny particles don't scatter visible light. SPF ratings may need to be extended upward due to atomic-sized reflective particles.

Nanotechnology has captured the imagination because it seems to provide a scientifically plausible framework for making exact copies of anything. The Star Trek replicator, whipping up a cappuccino or a multi-course feast suddenly has a connection, however stretched, to scientific reality. On the other side, there are also future disaster scenarios of nanomachines running amok. Ever since Engines of Creation, by K. Eric Drexler, created a sensation for its depiction of self-replicating nanomachines that could produce virtually anything, allowing humanity to reverse global warming, cure disease, and dramatically extend life spans to biblical lengths, technology-mediated catastrophe has shared the stage. The ETC Group (www.etcgroup.org) has raised caution flags on the environmental consequences of nanotechnology, publishing a critical review of what it calls "Atomtech," the technologies that converge in nanoscale.

There is growing excitement in interdisciplinary research, and none has more potential than the Little BANG. This is the phrase that has been used to capture the imagination from the potential explosion of knowledge from research convergence in four fields. The expression borrows from science at its grandest scale, the dominant cosmological theory for the creation of the universe. Here the phrase draws from the operative unit in information science, the Bit. It combines nanotechnology's manipulation of Atoms, cognitive science's focus on Neurons, and biotechnology's exploitation of the Gene. Together they make B.A.N.G. Merging these technologies into one, proponents say, will drive a huge industrial revolution and a societal "renaissance" that will be a dominant focus of research and learning for higher education throughout the 21st century.

References

General

The Foresight Institute: www.foresight.org

Technology Review: www.technologyreview.com/articles/wo_nanotech101.asp; www.technologyreview.com/articles/impact0403.asp

Nanotechnology Links: http://web.mit.edu/dwward/www/nanotechnology/nanotechnology.htm

Government Research

National Nanotechnology Initiative: www.nano.gov

National Institute of Standards and Technology: www.nist.gov/public_affairs/nanotech.htm

Nanotechnology in Higher Education

Harvard University: www.researchmatters.harvard.edu/topic.php?topic_id=186

MIT—Nanostructures Laboratory: http://nanoweb.mit.edu/

Northwestern University—Institute for Nanotechnology: www.nanotechnology.northwestern.edu/

Rice University—Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology: http://cnst.rice.edu/

University of California—California Nanosystems Institute: www.cnsi.ucla.edu/

Drexler, K. Eric, (1986), Engines of Creation, retrieved April 1, 2003 from www.foresight.org/EOC/index.html.

The ETC Group, (2003), "The Big Down: Atomtech—Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale," retrieved April 1, 2003 from www.etcgroup.org/documents/TheBigDown.pdf.

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