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The U.S. State Department is ready to roll out new passports using embedded digital photos against the advice of federal researchers, industry experts, and privacy proponents, who warn face recognition technology has shown an unacceptable error rate. The Washington Post reports the department chose face recognition to comply with the U.N.-affiliated International Civil Aviation Organization, which determined this technology to be least likely to spur privacy fears and because it was the least difficult standard for most countries to deploy. Researchers argue that error rates for face-recognition technology have climbed as high as 50% when photos are taken without proper lighting; and are promoting the implementation of the more reliable fingerprint biometrics. Indeed, tests recently conducted by the National Institute for Standards and Technology noted a pair of fingerprints provide a 99.6% accuracy rate. Fingerprint and iris scans were approved as additional biometric identifiers that could be embedded in the U.S. passport, but the digital photo is the only required element.

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Parliament Endorses Open Access

A report by the British Parliament's Common Science and Technology Committee supports making results of government-funded research freely available to the public. The report, entitled Scientific Publications: Free for All?, encourages "further experimentation with [the open access] business model; that is, open access publishers charge authors to print their articles rather than charging a subscription fee to readers. The committee also supports the U.K. government assisting universities to fund digital archives of their academic publications. The report states: "We have recommended that the U.K. government fund the establishment of an interlinked network of institutional repositories on which all research articles originating in the U.K. should be deposited and can be read for free." A copy of the full report is available at www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmsctech/399/399.pdf.

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A Shadow Over the Valley

Bangalore, India, may be at the threshold of surpassing Silicon Valley as home to the world's largest concentration of technology workers, as U.S. firms expand their use of offshore workers. CNET News reports this Indian city, home to many major outsourcing companies, employs 160,000 tech workers, with IT accounting for 100,000 of these jobs, and the rest in business outsourcing and call centers. Statistics from the California Employment Development Department estimated there were 175,100 IT workers in Santa Clara County as of June 2004, most of those working in computer design, telecommunications, ISPs, data processing, and computer product manufacturing. Government officials in India say the Bangalore region will exceed 200,000 IT workers in 2005. However, labor consultants in the Valley claim the area is experiencing significant growth levels as well. "Silicon Valley is beginning to reinvent itself. I am very optimistic," says Sam Haddad, a consulting professor at Stanford University, who sees new growth occurring in areas such as nanotechnology.

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Paint By Numbers

The latest Taulbee Survey from Computer Research Associates confirms the downward spiral of college students choosing to major in computing in North America. Last year, the number of newly declared CS and CE majors in the U.S. and Canada fell 23% vs. the year beforea statistic that is not expected to improve. Graduate programs have not experienced the same decline as yet, however many U.S. grad programs rely heavily on foreign students enrollment and new security regulations promise to significantly influence those numbers. In India, the number of students taking the Graduate Record Examthe test required for most applications to U.S. graduate schoolsfell 56% this year. In China, test-taking rates fell 52%. The Taulbee Survey, chronicling the annual enrollment, production, and employment of Ph.D.s in computer science and computer engineering for 30 years, also provides salary and demographic data for CS and CE faculty in North America. For more information, see www.cra.org/statistics/.

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Talk of the Future

The time is near when airline passengers will be able to use their cell phones while in flight. USA Today reports Qualcomm and American Airlines are developing in-flight cell service that could be introduced within two years and become commonplace within four. Their model routes signals from a cell phone to a small onboard device that relays the call to the aircraft's satellite communications antenna. The signal goes from that antenna to an orbiting satellite, from there to a ground antenna, then through a public ground network that routes the call to its destination. Demand for in-flight cell service is strong, according to the airlines, but only if the price is right (less than $1 per minute). Research suggests that revenue from air-to-ground and ground-to-air communications could top $8 billion by 2007. However, airlines must still face the social ramifications significant phone use will pose; including how to make calls without annoying everyone within earshot.

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Emotional Ride

Four inventors working for Toyota in Japan won a U.S. patent for a car they say will help drivers better communicate with others on the road. The quartet said they wanted drivers to have more than a horn and headlights to signal their intentions to other drivers, so their idea is a vehicle that will cry, laugh, wink, glare angrily, or just look like it's taking in the scenery, reports the New York Times. The patent describes a car with an antenna that wags, an adjustable body height for crouching, headlights that look like eyes and vary in intensity, hood slits and ornaments designed to look like eyebrows, eyelids, and tears; all of which will glow with colorful lighting to indicate the driver's mood. The vehicle's computer system will detect road and vehicle conditions, and allow drivers and passengers to input data about their moods. The car will learn from experience ("The occupant reacts angrily to reckless cutting in") and express that emotion when warranted. "Such emotive, organic vehicles could lead occupants to have a great affinity for their cars, and make the driving experience more comfortable," explained the Toyota team.

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