Net Log

Digital Gov't Document Gives Glimpse of Future

John Makulowich

By John Makulowich

Like other observers and commentators of the information technology scene, I am always on the lookout for signs of what the future holds.

Of course, there are short, intermediate and long-term views to consider, especially if we adopt the Web view of the world held by Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, that a cyberspace year is about three months.

One good indicator of the future of information technology is research and development funding. And among the better sources to check is the National Science Foundation. Based in Arlington, Va., NSF funds research and education in sciences, mathematics and engineering, with those benefiting from its largess responsible for conducting projects and preparing the results for publication.

The foundation's recent program announcement, "Digital Government," by the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, Division of Experimental and Integrative Activities, is a lode of valuable information. The programs it seeks to fund are likely to influence the future of IT at the government and university levels, if not in the private sector.

According to the document: "The goal of the digital government program is to fund research at the intersection of the computer and information sciences research communities and mid- to long-term research, development and experimental deployment needs of government information service communities."

The key section of the document covers possible research topics and technologies. The main areas are intelligent information integration; very-large-scale data and information acquisition and management for geospatial and multidimensional data; advanced analytics for large datasets/information collections; electronic transaction and commerce technologies; information services for citizen customers; and research in applying IT to law and regulation.

Taking intelligent information integration as an example, NSF noted that this includes techniques to mediate queries among distributed information sources with different types of data. It also includes tools for collaborating via networked information systems. This would let remote users, such as citizens or government staff, work together to reach common goals. The examples include automated "content" searching to generate indices of available government statistical data and their meaning, and automated formal processes assisting and guiding emergency managers to locate, access and use data and information resources.

The information in the document highlights that the decade ahead may usher in anytime, anywhere access to government information services by individuals using digital information and entertainment appliances.

As it states, "Given the inexorable progress toward faster computer microprocessors, greater network bandwidth and expanded storage and computing power at the desktop, citizens will expect a government that responds quickly and accurately while ensuring the privacy rights of individuals and the integrity of provided information. ...As society relies more on network technologies, it is essential that government make the most effective use of improvements."

You can send John e-mail at; his Web address is

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