Speaker: Tom Kalil, the White House.
Reported by Steve Hardin, Indiana State University
A Clinton administration advisor gave an overview of the administration's policies regarding networked information at the ASIS Annual Meeting in Washington. Tom Kalil, Senior Director responsible for Science and Technology Issues to the National Economic Council, the White House, and the U.S. National Coordinator for the G-7 Global Information Society pilot projects, delivered the meeting's keynote address.
"This is a fun and exciting time to be working" on these issues, he began. He then discussed six reasons why that's the case.
The first reason is that the costs of storing, transmitting and processing information continue to decline at an exponential rate. Engineers are working on tera-scale technology, featuring a trillion transistors on a chip.
Second, he said, not only is technology getting cheaper, but it's getting more sophisticated. The work being done on authentication, collaborative filtering and location-independent naming demonstrates this trend.
Third, technology is becoming a lot more ubiquitous. There are about 20-million computers connected to the Internet, and the number doubles yearly.
Fourth, we now have a world in which everyone can publish. It raises the observation that everyone can, but not everyone should.
Fifth, information in general and networked information in particular is playing an increasingly important role in our economy and society. The economy is becoming much more knowledge-intensive. Open access to information is becoming an important part of governance, he said. The Environmental Protection Agency web site lets people find the toxic waste dumps in their neighborhood, and which companies are the biggest polluters. Superfund sites and emission sources are represented in user-friendly maps now; it's changing corporate behavior because corporations don't want to be known as polluters.
This wider dissemination of information is "incredibly important," he said, in the developing world. In Sri Lanka, for example, rural peasants were getting only 40-50% of the market prices their crops would bring in Colombo, the capital city. Once the peasants had access to what the price was in Colombo, they were able to demand and get 80-90% of Colombo's price. Many say technology is a bigger deal in the developing world than in the industrialized world because it's more than increasing convenience; it's making the leap from no information to having information.
The sixth reason is all the intellectual ferment and experimentation going on in this area. When movies were first created, they featured static cameras on stage; they were just a way to record stage theater. It took about 30 years to develop close-ups, chase scenes, etc. We're going through same thing now with the web. What can we do besides just putting a book on the web? How can we add value?
Kalil went on to discuss several Clinton administration initiatives. One top priority, he said, is making sure every student has access to information technology in a meaningful way, to improve their performance in school. There are four goals set forth by the administration: increasing the number of multimedia computers in schools, connecting all classrooms to the Internet by 2000, making sure teachers have the training to take advantage of these resources, and making sure there's high quality software to support the curriculum through these new tools. The President has proposed a program to help states meet these four goals.
Kalil said the expertise of the information scientist is "desperately needed" to make the content of the Internet more usable. He cited the example of a search for "Newton's Law" which yielded 10,000 hits. ASIS's expertise in precision and recall could be helpful in this area. He said ASIS could also help with developing hotlists for particular subjects. The next logical step, he said, is to go from hotlists to wish lists; that is, making the transition from things that are on the web to things that should be on the web.
Another initiative, Kalil said, is the "next generation Internet," which President Clinton launched in 1996, and which now has the funding from Congress necessary to proceed. One goal of this initiative is developing long-term research. For example, currently the Internet can provide no that transmitted information will actually arrive at its destination. This arrangement isn't good enough for real-time collaboration. A second example: the Internet at this time connects 20-million computers around the world. Soon, it'll be billions of devices, not just computers. Thermostats, coffee pots, vending machines and so forth will all be connected. We don't have the expertise to do this.
A second goal of this initiative is the creation of testbeds sufficiently high enough in speed to push the technology. He said the administration would like to see 100 universities connected on lines 100 times faster than today's Internet, with a few institutions running 1000 times faster. For the hundred-fold increase in speed, he said, the administration is working closely with the Internet 2 project. The third goal of this "next generation Internet" project is perhaps the most important, he said: consideration of what is to actually be done with the technology. What new applications will emerge?
Another initiative, Kalil said, is for web accessibility. The White House and the Department of Education are working together on this initiative. The overall goal is to increase the accessibility of the web, particularly for people with disabilities. There's a need to display information in ways that are accessible to everyone. By doing that, he said, functionality is improved for everyone.
Still another initiative, he said, is determining how to extend learning beyond K-12 and make it lifelong? How do we create learning on demand? As a larger percentage of students (or those who would like to be students) are non-traditional, what policy initiatives would help?
At this point, having spoken for about 45 minutes, Kalil opened up the floor for discussion and questions. About 20 persons queried him on a variety of topics.
Kalil told one questioner that President Clinton believes the G-7 countries should collaborate on pilot projects aimed at creating a global inventory of information, interconnecting high-speed networks, government online and other services. He observed he has learned "international cooperation is really hard."
Kalil also said the administration will soon publish an unclassified version of a recent report on the robustness of Internet and information security. Among other things, the report established that government and the private sector are not organized to share information and handle crises. For example, if banks lose money because of cyber attacks, they have no incentive to share that information. One person asked if the administration would give up on the idea to escrow encryption keys. The FBI agent who has the key, he said, will be pressured by business or criminal interests to divulge it. "Am I paranoid?" he asked. Kalil joked, "No, you're not paranoid; they're out to get you." He did not, however, answer the question.
Kalil said the administration is trying to foster Internet access in developing countries by attempting to persuade them to develop better telecommunications policies. Price often has nothing to do with value in other countries. One of the challenges is that the U.S. foreign aid budget is small and getting smaller.
The recent WIPO discussions in Geneva concluded without a treaty detailing acceptable use of databases; one questioner raised a concern about what she perceived as a lack of protection for those databases. Kalil told her the general sense in the U.S. government is that there needs to be more national consensus- building before international agreements can be created.
Kalil also outlined some of the uses for net technology in diplomacy. He said most of the foreign affairs establishment has been slow to take advantage of it. But during negotiations for the Dayton peace accords, they used a GIS system to virtually fly people over terrain, to explain why lines were drawn in certain areas.
The session's conclusion found some people agreeing with Kalil, and some disagreeing with him. But there seemed to be a general consensus it had been a very interesting two hours!