Nation Topics - Internet and New Media
News and Features
Despite the frigid weather, the line to get into Hammerstein Ballroom snaked all the way down Manhattan's 34th Street the night of January 12. Vendors hawked shirts with slogans like "George W.
Eben Moglen has been
representing parties sued by the recording industry and is working on a
book about the death of intellectual property.
From MoveOn to meetup.com, the net is facilitating a new citizen
The year since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act has brought an ever-growing enemies list from our nation's thought police.
These days, it's the media conglomerates who are drunk with power--demanding a larger share of the nation's airwaves and threatening to turn the World Wide Web into an electronic theme park--and
On May 14, 2002, the first wave of Internet file-sharing died.
Unions are gradually making fuller use of the Internet's capacities to
improve communication with their own staffs or members. But increasingly
they are also using the web to recruit new members or to establish
"virtual communities" of union supporters in arenas not yet amenable to
the standard collective-bargaining model.
Alliance@IBM (www.allianceibm.org) is an example of an effective
Net-supported minority union, operating without a demonstrated pro-union
majority and without a collective-bargaining contract at a traditional
nonunion company. The alliance provides information and advice to
workers at IBM through the web. A similar effort at a partially
organized employer is WAGE ("Workers at GE," www.geworkersunited.org), which draws on contributions from fourteen cooperating
international unions. The Microsoft-inflected WashTech
(www.washtech.org) and the Australian IT Workers Alliance
(www.itworkers-alliance.org) are open-source unions that are closer to
craft unions or occupational associations. Both are responsive to the
distinctive professional needs of these workers, such as access to a
variety of job experiences and additional formal education, and the
portability of high-level benefits when changing jobs.
The National Writers Union (www.nwu.org), a UAW affiliate, is another
example of a union virtually created off the Net. It provides
information and advice--including extensive job postings--to members,
and it lobbies on their behalf, most spectacularly in the recent Supreme
Court decision it won on freelance worker copyright rights. But most of
its members work without a collectively bargained contract.
In Britain, UNISON (the largest union in the country) and the National
Union of Students have a website that tells student workers their rights
and gives them advice about how to deal with workplace problems
(www.troubleatwork.org.uk). It is a particularly engaging and practical
illustration of how concrete problems can be addressed through Net
Finally, for a more geographically defined labor community, take a look
at the website of the King County AFL-CIO (www.kclc.org), the Seattle
central labor council that uses the Net to coordinate its own business,
bring community and labor groups together for discussion and common
action, post messages and general information to the broader community,
and otherwise create a "virtual" union hall with much of the spirit and
dense activity that used to be common in actual union halls in major
Media policy in the digital age.
The automatic double doors at the Institute for Creative Technologies' seaside headquarters in West Los Angeles neatly snap open just as they do on the Starship Enterprise. And sitting inside ICT's sleek virtual-reality theater, which features a Cinerama screen, a "rumble floor" with ten subsonic "transducers" and a ceiling with twinkling blue lights, you could easily imagine you are on the Star Trek command bridge alongside Captain Kirk.
But this is the Pentagon's little piece of Hollywood. So at my side is Dr. Mike Andrews, chief scientist of the US Army and described as "founder of and inspiration behind" the ICT.
ICT was launched two years ago with a five-year, $45 million Army grant. Its mission, as defined by executive director Richard Lindheim, is to "mix showbiz with science...to combine Hollywood magic with the real world." More concretely, ICT seeks to develop the most advanced modeling and simulation technologies to train US troops for modern warfare through the use of virtual-reality computer games. According to Andrews, the first use of ICT games in training is still "a couple of years away."
ICT is administered by the private University of Southern California, which stands to profit from sales of technology and products. In addition to games made solely for the Army, ICT is also developing, with investment from Sony and another firm called Quicksilver, two combat training games that will be used by the Army and sold commercially.
Hollywood veterans abound at ICT: They include Lindheim, a former executive at NBC, MCA Television Group/Universal Studios and Paramount Television Group; James Korris, the creative director, former COO and founder of MCA TV Entertainment; and Jacquelyn Ford Morie, manager of one of ICT's training development projects and a former lead designer for Disney's feature animation department. All this talent, combined with some of the best and the brightest drafted from the digital design trenches, has allowed ICT to come up with world-class games aimed at teaching US troops what are called command decision skills.
As the lights dim in the VR theater, and the exquisitely rendered scenario unfolds on the wraparound screen, the viewer finds himself in the Bosnian countryside, bumping noisily along a back road in an Army Humvee. The ground rumbles and shakes as a chopper also arrives at the pivotal scene--a collision between a US Army vehicle and a civilian car, leaving a Bosnian child seriously injured. The trainee must now make split-second leadership decisions: Soothe the angry crowd that is gathering around the child and his distraught mother, or move on to quell a military confrontation somewhere up the road? The trainee, wearing a virtual-reality helmet, talks to the lifelike characters onscreen who, armed with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, are able to logically respond to almost any command.
Later, I accompany chief scientist Andrews to an adjacent ICT facility where he cuts the ribbon on the think tank's newest project, "Flatworld"--a room-sized "set" that, when viewed through 3-D glasses, can transform itself from a training site in Bosnia, to one in the desert, to one on an alien planet. At one point, a monarch butterfly flutters outside an artificial window and then, apparently, flies inside the room and hovers at our nose--a technology filched directly from Disneyland.
And that points to a concern: While the technology is impressive, the scripts and scenarios are cooked up by Hollywood writers and video-game masters--not by linguists, historians or political scientists. Some might say that the current conflict in Afghanistan has its roots not in a lack of US technology but rather in a paucity of human intelligence. That thought was impossible to avoid while watching the training scenario set in Bosnia. At the trainee's feet lay the grieving mother of the injured child, the potential catalyst for an explosion by the local villagers. But she conveniently never spoke up. If she had, it would not have been in English, the only language the trainee is likely to understand.
But Dr. Neil Sullivan, vice provost of research at ITC's parent, USC, expresses confidence. "When we started out two years ago, we thought these were very curious communities [academia, the military and the entertainment industry] to be partnering; we thought it would be Mission Impossible. But ITC now has real products that are going to have real effects on Army training. And who can doubt that training isn't helpful?"
More training can never hurt. But even after all the gee-whiz razzmatazz of the virtual-reality immersion experience, one doubt still nags: Wouldn't American soldiers be better off getting trained in the language, history and culture of the countries to which they are dispatched than spending hours talking to people who look like them on a computer screen?
The Supreme Court, in the final week of June, handed down three decisions, each of which seems to endorse a valuable social principle.
In the first, involving the right of legal immigrants who have pleaded guilty to crimes in the past to a judicial review of deportation proceedings, the Court upheld the principle that no matter who you are, you are entitled to your day in court.
In the second case, the High Court affirmed the right of writers and artists to share in the wealth made possible by the new media. The case was brought by a group of freelancers who objected to the inclusion of their work in electronic databases without permission or remuneration; the group was led by Jonathan Tasini, the president of the National Writers Union and a man with an admirable mission.
In the third case, the Supreme Court made it more possible for Congress to provide correctives to the influence of money in politics by upholding Watergate-era limits on how much political parties can spend in coordination with candidates for federal office. Had the Court eliminated the restrictions, it would have legitimized the parties as cash-laundering machines for donors.
Left to be determined, in all three cases, are the appropriate remedies for the ills the rulings addressed, and the difficulty of fashioning these should not be underestimated. But it is heartening to see the Court acting in its proper role as the guardian of both the individual and society.