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
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
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
HPR: Even if breaking the encryption is for a legitimate purpose, to make a
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.
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.,
- 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
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.
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.