Harvard Cyberposium highlights hot trends

Security technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), third-generation (3G) networking, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and...

Security technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), third-generation (3G) networking, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and all things wireless were the focus of IT executives speaking at this year's annual Harvard Business School Cyberposium.

The Cyberposium, which took place at the weekend, is organised and run by Harvard Business School students. It attracts hundreds of students from campuses worldwide who are working on MBA degrees and offers them a chance to hear speeches and panel discussions featuring academics, IT executives and leaders of companies that rely heavily on IT. Based on various conference sessions and speeches, these areas drew keen interest:

Security technologies including biometrics like iris and fingerprint scanning, but also more intrusive and, therefore controversial, identity methods such as body scanning. Over and over again, executives noted that this area is going to be a big one in coming years, spurred by concerns after the September 11 attacks on the US.

The tricky terrain of maintaining freedoms, including the right to privacy, will continue to be at the fore as security technologies are developed and deployed. Over time, a calmer attitude will prevail and tighter security will be in place where it needs to be, such as at large sporting events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, and in airports, train stations and subway systems rather than across a broad spectrum of public places, speakers suggested.

There also seems to be agreement that there is a need for technology that improves the ability to analyse huge amounts of personal data stored in various places, in order to help law enforcement agencies prevent criminal activity without hampering freedoms and movement of people just trying to go about their lives and business, speakers said.

Artificial Intelligence is a regular topic of conversation at Harvard University and its neighbour, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and seems to be outgrowing the negative connotations that came to be associated with it years ago, speakers said. Interestingly enough, AI has been pushed forward by the toy industry, home to the first widespread, affordable applications of robots, which rely on AI technologies.

Future applications will involve sending robots into dangerous situations for police and military use, an application that has been employed in Afghanistan and will continue to evolve, said Helen Greiner, co-founder and president of iRobot.

While Greiner envisages a world where robots clean our homes and offices, freeing us from mundane chores, Michael de la Maza, chief executive officer of Outerware, predicts that within the next 50 years artificial intelligence will be on a par with human intelligence, making the agricultural, industrial and Internet revolutions irrelevant by comparison.

When AI does catch up, it will quickly overtake human intelligence. "It will blow us away," he said.

Advanced networking and telecommunication products and services including 3G and wireless advances, topped a lot of forward-looking lists at the conference.

Numerous speakers opined that 2002 is "the year of VoIP". Of course, some of us have heard that same opinion offered before. But Cyberposium attendees were told that the infrastructure is now ready and the technology is, too.

Wireless technologies also got a lot of attention, and not just wireless computing and networking. All manner of common household devices and functions such as lighting systems will be wireless in the future, said Robert Poor, founder of Ember.

Before then, though, the US will see 3G services become more widespread. Infrastructure providers are putting the hardware and software in place for that, said Bruce Claflin, chief executive officer of 3Com. Bluetooth also could well take off, he said, with this year proving a turning point one way or the other for the technology.

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