Computing Applications

News Track

  1. Everybody Must Get Cloned
  2. A Step Beyond Cookies
  3. The Chicken and the Chip
  4. Air Communication Breakdown
  5. No Sale
  6. Intestinal Pillage
  7. Author
  8. Sidebar: Top 10 Signals You're Tired of the Internet Business

A human-image animation system that manipulates stored images of a person’s facial movements in response to phonemes (the smallest units of speech) and can then replicate voice and image in a realistic video duplicate has been developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology. The technology, called Digital Personnel, is voice-driven but uses real-person video and facial movements as its building blocks, resulting in photo-realistic animation of a person speaking. Acquiring the exclusive worldwide rights to market Digital Personnel, TGraphco Technologies, Newtown, Penn., cites video telephony, broadcasting, distance learning, gaming, and motion pictures as key areas for its commercial use, as well as in product demonstrations, promotions, and celebrity representations. "The ability to take a famous person and replicate the person in multiple places—on the Web, to have a dignitary or movie star represent your product without them actually being there—that’s a very powerful tool," says a TGraphco official.

"I put this in the category of skin-crawl technology. This is what Mary Shelley wrote about in Frankenstein. This is an example of a technology being deployed before we’ve sat down as a society and really thought through it."
—Jon Katz, author and media critic, commenting on Digital Personnel

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A Step Beyond Cookies

New software is prompting visions of a two-tiered ISP market composed of those who pay for anonymity and those who use the Internet but allow their every move to be recorded, reports the Wall Street Journal. The technology, developed by Predictive Networks, goes a step further than "cookie" technology, creating a detailed user profile by tracking every click a user makes on the Web, so advertisers who place ads through Predictive can target individuals according to their patterns of use. "On the Web, you are going to get hit with advertising, no matter what," says Time Digital editor Josh Quittner, "so it might as well be relevant advertising—stuff you’re actually interested in." Quittner also points out that signing up for services using this software is entirely voluntary, unlike cookies, which are difficult for the average user to disable.

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The Chicken and the Chip

Tiny radio transmitters are being embedded into the breasts of chickens to monitor fowl physiology. The devices measure and download the birds’ body temperature to computers hooked up to their coop’s environmental systems. If the temperature rises, for example, the computer automatically adjusts the coop’s temperature. The system is expected to reduce the number of chickens that die from overheating. It should also mean safer food for consumers, since better temperature control in coops limits disease.

"It is incumbent on us, and we feel it is entirely possible … that by the end of 2004 a farmer in Saharan Africa should be able to get to a point of access, let’s say, in half a day’s walk or riding on a bullock cart."
—Chuck Lankester, an IT consultant, on a UN panel recommending Internet access for everyone in the world by 2005

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Air Communication Breakdown

For the second time in a week in June, the computer that handles all flights entering British airspace broke down, causing local air traffic chaos, as well as delays and cancellations elsewhere in Europe, reports Agence France-Presse. Controllers had to revert to time-consuming manual backup systems, delaying hundreds of arrivals and departures for an average of three hours before the computer was fixed. The air traffic service promised a thorough investigation.

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No Sale

The Internet’s potential to sell cars is exaggerated, says a report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. According to the study, car retailing sites have proliferated in the U.S. and in Europe but are now struggling to grow fast enough to survive. Automotive researcher J.D. Power-LMC says only 4% of deals in the U.S. in 1999 were conducted entirely over the Net. Bottom line: People use the Internet to gather information and intelligence on prices, but to conclude the deal, they keep searching for the reassurance of the in-person buy.

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Intestinal Pillage

A disposable capsule containing a videocamera-on-a-chip, a tiny floodlight, a radio transmitter, and a battery that is swallowed and makes its way through the intestines has been developed by British and Israeli researchers. As the capsule makes its way through the digestive tract, digital images are transmitted to receivers taped to the patient’s abdomen and connected to a Walkman-size recorder worn on a belt. The main benefit of the video-pill technique is that it can inspect regions of the small intestine that are difficult, if not impossible, to examine with regular endoscopes. The disadvantage: The pill doesn’t stop moving, and can’t peer closely at suspect spots for further examination.

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