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12.10.2000 · Research Group on the Global Future
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Research Group on the Global Future
Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP)
Domain style names are being introduced in the Internet to allow a controlled delegation of the authority and responsibility for adding hosts to the system. ... Domain names will be supported in the long run by a system of special servers called "domain servers" which will be used to translate names to addresses. -- J. Postel, Request for Comments 881, November 1983
(1) ICANN Gets Elected
(2) Send in the Clones?
(3) Noted in Passing
(1) ICANN GETS ELECTED
ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (http://www.icann.org), just completed a world- wide electronic election for five at-large members of its board. In 1998 the Corporation was assigned the task of coordinating the system of names, like uni-muenchen.de or microsoft.com, and numbers, like 184.108.40.206 - the address of the University of Munich's domain name server, that form the foundation of the internet. ICANN's launch was meant to complete the transformation from benign technical despotism under the late John Postel, a situation that predated the existence of .com or .edu, to a global body that was accountable to all of the internet's key constituencies: governments, infrastructure providers, commercial interests, researchers, computer scientists, and the public as a whole.
Controversy has dogged ICANN's footsteps, as a body that conceived of itself largely in technical terms has been forced to confront very different public perceptions. Given that ICANN will soon decide on implementing new top level domains to join existing domains like .edu, .int, .de, or .tv (Tuvalu), the Corporation's technical decisions will have an impact that is easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
As public awareness grew, so did the expectation of accountability and transparency for internet users as a whole, and not just organized or technical interests. Mass media in Germany in particularly picked up on ICANN's story, and the story of elections, raising users' perceptions and driving registration of Germans in the at-large voting to second place behind the United States. The overrepresentation of Germans among European voters, as compared to their share of internet users in Europe, will no doubt spark further controversy about the elections.
One at-large representative was elected from each of five geographic regions, with voting taking place October 1-10. The elections themselves were plagued by technical problems in the first few days, with some inevitable finger-pointing. http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,39206,00.html
Now that the votes are in, the two most active regions, North America and Europe, have chosen grass-roots activists. Karl Auerbach, the apparent North American winner, is a researcher at Cisco Systems and wants to challenge what he perceives as ICANN's current pro- business bias. The European member, Andy Müller-Maguhn, a well-known German programmer and one of the key figures of the Chaos Computer Club, is also a critic of current ICANN practices. In an interview with Reuters (http://de.news.yahoo.com/001011/7/14awy.html), he said that the way that ICANN had taken and communicated decisions reminded him of the Communist Politburo of East Germany.
Politics, technocracy and commerce are about to have a loud collision in cyberspace. The newly elected board members will join in ICANN's annual meeting on November 16 in Marina del Rey, California. The selection of new top level domains had been expected for November 20, but this will probably be delayed. The elected representatives are likely to enjoy more legitimacy than their colleagues on the board, and certainly more media attention.
(2) SEND IN THE CLONES?
An obscure and peculiar religious group has started a minor media frenzy by announcing that it intends to lead an effort to clone a person, beginning in October. While the group itself is decidedly a fringe effort - it claims some 50,000 members around the globe, has beliefs centered on contact with extraterrestrials, and makes a large sum from its UFOland theme park near Montreal - its cloning announcement points out that cloning mammals is not terribly challenging any more in scientific terms.
As the Washington Post writes, (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A39671-2000Oct9.html) "That's because the biggest roadblock to human cloning is not that it requires great technical ability--it almost certainly does not--but that it will take many failed pregnancies to get a single success. That, along with society's queasiness about cloning people, has led most mainstream scientific authorities to reject the idea. But a flock of dedicated believers willing to tolerate a few dozen miscarriages along the way could probably clone a person in less than a year, leading scientists said.
"'It's a numbers game,' said George Seidel, a physiologist and cloning expert at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. 'It's very likely that if you did it enough times you could make it work.'" Given the amount of understanding we already have of human fertility, it may even turn out to be easier to clone people than other mammals.
In this context, a look at the debate over in vitro fertilization that took place nearly a quarter of a century ago, is instructive. Much of the same rhetoric which was applied then, appears now in the discussion of cloning. As the Sydney Morning Herald writes, "Doctors thought [in vitro fertilization] was science fiction, a dangerous idea driven by an appetite for headlines rather than scientific curiosity." (http://www.smh.com.au/news/9904/30/world/world10.html) Whether or not the current controversy will fade is certainly an open question, but a look back may be helpful in thinking about the future.
Finally, as a medical specialist observed in another context, people have children for all sorts of reasons: to save a marriage, to carry on a family name, to have extra hands to work the farm. Judging those decisions through laws opens an extremely intimate realm to state scrutiny.
(3) NOTED IN PASSING
1. Complete Pneumonia and Meningitis Bacterium Genome
This week's issue of the science journal Nature (http://www.nature.com) contains an article describing the entire genome for the bacterium Ureaplasma urealyticum, usually found in the human urinary tract, which is linked to pneumonia and meningitis in premature infants. The research, by John Glass of the University of Alabama and colleagues, suggests that the bactera have some of unusual features which could be exploited to improve treatment against disease. Many genetic sequences thought to be essential to bacterial life were absent from the U. urealyticum genome, giving researchers a new view into understanding bacteria. Earlier in October, Genome Therapeutics Corp. announced that it had sequenced two other bacteria implicated in urinary infections. These results show the movement of gene sequencing into the industrial realm, with scientific challenges moving toward understanding the relationships between genes and the proteins they produce, along with those proteins' effects in cells, organs and bodies.
Reports of the first virus for hand-held PalmPilot computers say that the program, dubbed Phage, disables applications and attaches itself to all of the programs that it can find. The emergence of viruses for the Palm was probably only a matter of time, given their worldwide popularity and the wide array of shareware available on the internet. It can spread by downloads added to a Palm, or by applications traded by infrared port. In its present form, Phage is an irritation, easily patched (http://www.f-secure.com/palm/), and likely to spread slowly. As a Finnish security company notes, "Phage has not been found in the wild and can not be considered a serious threat at this time." If virus writers find the PalmPilot community an interesting challenge, Phage will probably evolve more destructive capabilities and better camouflage. No word on when a Psion version is expected.
3. Ebook Awards at Frankfurt Book Fair
On October 20, the Frankfurt Book Fair will award its first set of prizes to authors and publishers of ebooks. Prizes will be awarded in fiction and non-fiction, for ebook originals and ebooks converted from print form. There is also a $100,000 prize for the best overall original ebook and a technology prize for "the advancement and implementation of ebook technologies and features". Already, though, the awards have attracted controversy, both for books that may or may not have truly been ebook originals and for the role of Microsoft.
Read more in The Guardian Online: http://www.booksunlimited.co.uk/Print/
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Sascha Meinert, Douglas Merrill, Richard Resch, Juergen Turek
Research Group on the Global Future
Center for Applied Policy Research
Geschwister Scholl Institute
Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich
D-81675 Munich, Germany
Tel: +49 89 2180 1300