net.wars: The 2004 wish list

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 02 January 2004

Forget the prediction business. That's passive-aggressive shock tactics. What we should be doing is telling all those guys in the tech business (and elsewhere) up front what we want instead of trying to guess or waiting for them to show us what they've got so we can tell them they're wrong. Forthwith.

Wendy M Grossman

Natural language processing to recognize spam. Everybody agrees this is the next step in the spam wars, and just about every anti-spam software producer is working on it, but move faster, boys, we need this badly. At least some of the basic, enraged frustration with spam is the fact that the average human can cast an eye over a spam-filled mailbox and spot the junk in as long as it takes to say, "penis enlargement" while a computer is still fooled by simple workarounds like spelling it "p3nis enl@rgem.ent". Real dimwits, these computers. Smarten them up.

Open-source software to get a high-profile, star champion. Apple has its Steve Jobs, Windows its Bill Gates. We may not love these guys but we do listen to what they say and watch what they do. Open-source software needs someone as compelling as they are to act as its champion and take the whole world in his hands. Also: get that software some good, exclusive games. There's a significant school of thought that holds that Windows' success happened because of Solitaire.

All devices to be waterproof. If you've ever had a computercidal mug of tea attack your laptop or dropped your seven-month-old Palm Tungsten C in the toilet, you'll know what I'm talking about.

If people are going to do RFID - and they are - then what we need to do is demand features that are useful to us. We hear only about features that are useful to them, like better supply chain management and the unwanted ability to track us via the tagged items we are wearing or carrying. What I want is items that tell me where they are. That's about the only use I can see for a pervasive home network: the refrigerator doesn't need to talk to the toaster, but it would be really helpful if it knew how to find my keys or the videotape that has the final episode of season four of The Sopranos on it. Maybe RFID can do that, maybe it can't. It would probably need a dense grid of readers all over the house. But let's have self-location in all devices, whatever technology it takes to implement it. At the very least, they should beep when I yell at them by name.

File-sharers to be forgiven as the early adopters of digital entertainment that they are. Call off the legal wolfhounds. Let my people go. Concentrate on changing the antiquated geographical business models that do not fit this seamless digital world inhabited by people of varied and unpredictable tastes. Recognize that while people may not necessarily be willing to pay for content, they are willing to pay for time and quality. A legal way to easily download American TV shows the day after they premiere on the US networks, for example, would sell quite a few subscriptions as long as it was reasonably priced. And if you're going to run an "all-you-can-eat" music service, don't kick people off for downloading "too much".

Forget national ID cards. Even Business Week, a publication hardly noted for its liberal views, recently noted that the plenty invasive US PATRIOT Act has not achieved one of its major purposes, blocking money laundering. David Blunkett's favourite project isn't going to achieve any of its stated purposes either, and it's going to fail while costing a stupendous amount of money. If you want to tackle fraud, prevent terrorism, and fight organised crime, the same resources could buy you an awful lot of more effective, traditional policing. Biometrics, due in passports by 2005, will not save us.

Decentralise Internet governance. I'm still trying to work out what this would mean, but ICANN has become, as some predicted, a bureaucratic central point of failure.

We're always talking about convergence: voice and data networks, broadcasting and telecommunications, computing and communications, mobile telephone networks and the Internet. How about converging computing and fountain pens? Efforts to use paper or paper substitutes to capture handwritten notes have so far required you to use a special pen. I want to use my beloved Parker fountain pen with the elegantly gliding gold nib on the paper of my choice and still have the notes captured. And - hahahahaha - the computer able to read my handwriting.

Unify the interoperation of the different types of wireless so that a connection can be handed off from any type to any other type without interrupting the connection. You hear occasionally that people are working on this one, too, but work faster! I'd like a little icon that tells you the status and cost of the connection at any given time,

Give Americans a clue about mobile telephony and Bluetooth. These are a people so primitive they still think their three-standard mobile phone system is a pretty neat idea. Finally, for the second time in a row, let's not elect Bush. Some traditions deserve to be upheld.

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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).