The Information Overload

Communications companies are trying to figure out how to face the forthcoming waves of words

CHICAGO -- Bandwidth was in high demand last week as the largest gathering of pager-carrying, cellular phone-using communications executives converged to plan their future.

For three days, the Windy City acted as the communications hub for 3,000 of the industry's leaders and managers from around the world. And no one could accuse the businessmen and women of not practicing what they preach. Few of the 150 two-hour educational seminars went off without a peep from a wireless device.

Representatives from AT&T, Digital Equipment Corp., EDS, Northern Telecom, Sprint, and hundreds of other companies and universities discussed the converging telephone, computer and television business, as well as other issues of the information age.

"We are being flooded with valuable information," said James Abrahamson, chairman of the board of Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp., giving the keynote banquet address on Sept. 19. "And we're drowning in it."

But there were plenty of companies ready to offer up a life-preserver. Thirty emerging technologies, applications, and new products were on display, each promising to help manage the information overload.

For instance, the Institute for the Learning Sciences at the Northwestern University in Illinois uses most of its $8.5 million annual budget to sort and distribute information for use in education. By creating interactive multimedia tools that focus on "learning by doing," the eight-year-old institute hopes to serve as a catalyst for change through software that alters how and what people learn.

TeleRobotics International's Omniview camera system, which was developed as a prototype for the space station, gives users ultimate control to see in any and all directions. This small company's patented technology uses a scaling algorithm to rotate, pan, tilt and/or zoom closer to an image.

All you need is TRI's $10,000 box with remote control, a camera and a monitor and you can capture images from 24 different views. The system's many uses include teleconferencing, security and surveillance and even endoscopic surgery, said Daniel Kuban, vice president of TRI. If Precision Systems Inc. has its way, American citizens will soon be able to file their taxes via the telephone. Precision, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is one of a handful of companies that want to make TeleFile a reality.

And Precision is the best choice, said Roberto Portales, a manager with the firm, because it has experience handling large telephone call-in systems. Currently the 100-employee company handles 23,000 ports for the Home Shopping Network, in addition to other large projects with MCI and AT&T. If Precision wins the TeleFile deal, it could make the firm's $18 million revenues in 1993 seem paltry.


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