Magazine article The Futurist

The Networked States of America: National Computer Network Poses Dilemmas

Magazine article The Futurist

The Networked States of America: National Computer Network Poses Dilemmas

Article excerpt

The proposal to create an information superhighway--a computer information network that would link every business, classroom, library, and home in the United States by the year 2015--raises a number of basic questions.

"Before the nation goes on-line, we must address issues such as security, property rights, and access controls," says Eugene Spafford, a professor of computer science at Purdue University and an expert on computer security. Spafford points out that even within existing computing networks there are few standards and even less consensus on such issues. The fact that current networks are already global in scope makes addressing these issues even more important.

Enforcing copyrights is one of the first things that will have to be dealt with on a national network. Today's information technology makes it extremely easy to copy and pass along copyrighted material. "People don't respect copyrights now," says Spafford. In order to make a national network attractive to publishers and other possible sources of information, it will be crucial to protect copyrighted material ranging from novels to newspaper articles to software.

Spafford points out that organizing such massive amounts of information presents an enormous challenge. "Trying to find something on such a large system with our current technology would be like going to the library with no card catalogs, no on-line resources, and no librarians." Therefore, standards will have to be established on how to index this information, he says.

Standards for the information being entered into the system will also have to be established in order to ensure that it is both accurate and valid. Currently, "there is no way of checking which information is authentic," Spafford says. "Who should be allowed to put what information on the system is a major concern. …

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