Statement on National Information Infrastructure Issues
Statement of the Problem
A key challenge facing the information technology community is to integrate human-computer interaction (HCI) research with that of broadband communication in an economically effective manner serving the broadest possible community. Over the next 5 to 7 years, we expect this issue to become one of the central economic and scientific drivers of the entertainment industry, as well as a key influence on how science and education are conducted in technologically advanced nations. Our organization is particularly concerned with the latter arena. We want to ensure that scientists, students, and other serious information seekers are able to exploit the new technology and, in the case of a large segment of our membership, also contribute to it. One of the many nontechnical barriers is the lack of a forum for dissemination of information about the national information infrastructure (NII), and the IEEE Computer Society, with its technical groups and wide-ranging publications, can be a significant facilitator of such a forum. The deployment should include a strong leveraging of the educational potential, given the more likely entertainment and business aspects. Few universities, high schools, and elementary schools are prepared to profit from the NII deployment, and even fewer understand what changes in their educational modus operandi are likely to take place if they participate. These issues are not frequently included in public policy studies of technology because the responsible curricula designers and implementors are often absent. One certain aspect is that usability via good interfaces must be taken seriously, given the broad spectrum of users.
Areas and Examples
Five key areas of HCI research activity are summarized below, together with related key developments, enabling technologies, and capabilities:
Interaction Among Technical and Nontechnical (Legal/Regulatory, Economic, and Social) Factors
There are legal concerns with regard to the balance between security and freedom of communications. In particular, a thorny issue to be discussed is the degree of responsibility, if any, that carriers have for transmitting illegal material or for the theft or penetration that may take place when security is breached. There are new socially explosive issue (pornography, copyright issues, etc.) that need to be addressed in the context of networks and information systems. They are related to the financial viability of the human-computer interaction on a large scale by big populations and have a tremendous impact on the publishing industry. A new type of "NII electronic forensics" needs to be established, and it must have a strong technical basis to stand legal scrutiny. This is an area that only highly secret intelligence agencies have dealt with and that universities have incorporated only sporadically in their research areas. It is a delicate area of concern for the public, since it is often related to security and privacy.
Contingencies and Uncertainties
The entertainment industry is most likely to dominate the field. It is most likely (but uncertain) that only a few educational institutions will be able to afford the expenditures associated with supplying educational services to their constituencies. It is not clear how the telephone and publishing industries will react and what their investments will be, but much of it will depend on intellectual property rights protection and the availability of sources of materials. How users will react to this can only be gleaned from some experiments such as the "electronic village" at Virginia Polytechnic Institute's Department of Computer Science. The Digital Libraries Initiative of NSF, ARPA, and NASA needs to continue and be more widely coordinated in a national forum accessible to all.
Classes of users to be served include the following:
Disadvantaged persons or those in geographical areas remote to broadband access will be the most difficult to serve, partly because of their technical access problems and partly because, in general, they will most likely be at the low end of user sophistication. They will also be those who are likely to benefit the most from having access to resources that would otherwise be unreachable.
The market will have to provide "substance" or content. The cost of providing is high. How to provide substantive content, create a cottage industry of providers, allow those potential providers the opportunity to access and sell in a free market, and draw lines of responsibility and legality are but some of the issues that will determine the speed of the ramp-up. Interactivity is expensive, as is any two-way communication, but the bandwidth does not have to be symmetric in both channels. This is an area where technology could have an impact if we understand the human-computer aspects of interactive "dialogue" in a broad sense. Openness should mean possible accessibility to all the users who fall within the service potential of a provider on an equal basis, but should be restrictive, of course, on the basis of registration for cases where financial transactions are to take place. The determination of viable means to charge for services is a techno-economic factor that is of fundamental importance for early resolution and fast ramp-up. The scalability may also be viewed from the point of view of the user's sophistication and needs. Our "help" menus are insufficient and too slow to solve the problems of specialized use for nonspecialized but proper users of the facilities. New approaches to diagnosis of the user's difficulty are a part of the "HCI problem" and are required for fast progress by the public user and even by the moderately sophisticated industrial or government user.
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