Internet Visionaries to Discuss Future of Cyberspace

The first conference of its kind invites Web browsers to preview conference speakers' notes

Mix a rapidly expanding base of Internet-savvy professionals, a flourishing set of high-quality, digitized resources and a growing library of slick World Wide Web tools. What you get is a pot full of initiatives to leverage cyberspace. The key question, "How best to do it?" is the theme of an upcoming White House-sponsored conference.


The first of its kind, "Leveraging Cyberspace," will convene Oct. 8-9 at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, home of numerous Internet innovations since its founding in 1970.

Aside from gathering a Who's Who of Internet icons, the conference cleverly exploits the current clients by setting up a number of Web pages that allow attendees and non-attendees alike to view submitted papers and leave comments well in advance of the meeting. This creates a virtual conference -- as well as a physical conference.

For example, today you can go to the conference Web site and read "Massively Parallel Wetware: The Internet as an Agent of Creative Collision," a paper by self-styled Internet evangelist Nick Arnett of Verity Inc., Mountain View, Calif. You can type and transmit your opinions and then view comments posted by others. The closing session will review the messages sent to the Web page and include a so-called open mic where people can communicate in real-time, on- and off-site.

Also on the Web page is "Leveraging Cyberspace," by Thomas A. Kalil, first published in the July IEEE Communications, and around which the theme of the conference spins. The major thrust is that leveraging the efforts of many networked users carries important economic, social and political consequences. This commands the attention of policy makers because of the potential of leveraging taxpayer resources and promoting information infrastructure applications.

Kalil, a senior director to the White House's National Economic Council with responsibility for science and technology issues, is the guiding light for the conference, which is co-sponsored by the White House National Economic Council, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology and Xerox PARC.

Kalil says three elements came together to spark the idea for the conference. First was the NetDay experience, where individuals worked together to wire 20 percent of California schools to classrooms, libraries and computer labs. Second is the concept of the Virtual Library, where professionals volunteer their experience and knowledge to compile information for others to use. And third is the focus of Vice President Al Gore on the importance of distributed intelligence as a metaphor for collaboration on the Internet. "I wanted to convene a conference where systematic thinking could engage the question of how best to leverage cyberspace," said Kalil, explaining how Gore's message could help set the tone.

What would Kalil like to see emerge from the meeting? "A movement from wish lists to hot lists, that is, a focus on solving problems, of identifying areas to research," says Kalil. Practically, this amounts to bringing together subject matter experts with technologists to identify academic areas where more work must be done in resources and processes.

This particular example, Kalil points out, arises from the president's and vice president's educational technology goals.

Kalil also mentions as instances of leveraging cyberspace the work of Professor Pattie Maes at MIT on agents and the notion of collaborative filtering. Agents are software that inhabit computer networks and autonomously gather data according to well-formed rules. An example of an agent is Firefly. A Web utility, Firefly sends subscribers continuing news of new music and bands matched to their personal preferences. Collaborative filtering, also known as social filtering or recommendation sharing, leverages recommendations from other people to assist those searching for useful materials. It's an alternative to purely automated methods, such as Firefly.

Conferees will share information on technologies that can support wide-area collaboration, such as distributed computing, computer-supported cooperative work and intelligent agents; case studies of successful and unsuccessful efforts to leverage the contributions of networked users; implications for business strategies in information technology, software and networking; and proposals for leveraging cyberspace.

Donna Harman, manager of the Written Natural Language Processing Group of NIST's Advanced Systems Division, will stress technical and social issues, focusing on smaller projects.

"The way we are doing business is changing. I want to draw attention to projects that could not have occurred without the Internet, for example, an evaluation community on the [Text Retrieval Conference] that is completely Web-based and would not have existed without it," says Harman.

Information and a registration form are at http://nii.nist.gov/cyber/cyber_conf.html.


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