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Vol.32 No.1 February 1998

White Paper Published; ACM Activity Update

Bob Ellis

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This column covers several items: a synopsis of SIGGRAPH's first policy white paper, ACM public policy activities and the ACM Policy98 Conference.

SIGGRAPH's First Policy White Paper

SIGGRAPH's first policy white paper, entitled "Computer Graphics, Visualization, Imaging and the GII: Technical Challenges and Public Policy Issues," was published in May 1997. It is available on-line, or by contacting Judy Osteller at ACM SIG Services, 1515 Broadway, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10036.

The first half of the paper describes ways computer graphics can be used to address some technical challenges of the global information infrastructure (Internet/GII) and also ways the GII can address some technical challenges of computer graphics. Included are:

  • Designing more effective interfaces to accommodate diverse sets of users
  • Organizing information effectively
  • Increasing the speed of delivery by reducing the size of images and graphics
  • Reducing the information deluge from searches and queries

There are also some technical challenges in computer graphics that can be resolved by the GII. These include the enabling of up-to-date transmission of visual information, and the catering to diverse computer graphics and visualization users.

The second half of the paper describes some public policy issues directly affecting computer graphics and, for completeness, closes with a brief summary of important policy issues that go beyond computer graphics. As the public's direct access to computing becomes more widespread, policy issues have begun to affect the professional activities of all computing professionals.

I believe the number one policy issue affecting computer graphics is the availability of adequate bandwidth. While technical advances provide more efficient transfer of graphics and image information, increased availability leads to a desire for more bandwidth. While the rate of deployment of increased bandwidth seems to be increasing lately, more bandwidth is always needed and the rate of deployment might be increased by addressing tariffs and other regulatory issues. The availability of adequate computing bandwidth to support graphics at both the servers and the users' computers is also an important issue.

Another critical policy issue affecting computer graphics is the convergence of television and computing. The recent involvement of computer graphics practitioners and researchers in the definition of advanced television standards is an excellent example of computing professionals involved in policy issues. A less obvious example is the expectation of the public that computing should be as accessible as television, something that's definitely not currently true.

Other important public policy issues affecting computer graphics include:

  • Accommodating diverse users
  • Providing appropriate access including availability
  • Affordability and usability
  • Addressing dramatic lifestyle changes such as telemedicine

Finally, the paper addresses a set of policy issues which, while affecting computer graphics, also affect the general practice of computing. These include:

  • International diversity
  • Legal and security challenges
  • Applicability of existing laws
  • Scaling of hardware and software to accommodate the availability of datasets of truly huge sizes

ACM Public Policy Activities

For those of you who are ACM members or who may be interested in the public policy activities of the ACM, USACM Committee activities may be of interest. What follows borrows freely from the ACM's and USACM's home pages. "The ACM U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) serves as the focal point for ACM's interaction with U.S. government organizations, the computing community and the U.S. public in all matters of U.S. public policy related to information technology. USACM responds to requests for information and technical expertise from U.S. government agencies and departments, seeks to influence relevant U.S. government policies on behalf of the computing community and the public, and provides information to ACM on relevant U.S. government activities. USACM also identifies potentially significant technical and public policy issues and brings them to the attention of ACM and the community."

As can be seen from the description, USACM's activities take a stronger advocacy role than SIGGRAPH's where our purpose in policy issues is primarily education of policy makers, the public and SIGGRAPH members. USACM only deals with United States issues, primarily at the federal level, while SIGGRAPH's public policy activities try to be non-national.

SIGGRAPH's policy activities differ from USACM's in another way. We focus mainly on issues directly relevant to computer graphics where the issues of interest to USACM are broad, constitutionally based ones. The USACM's areas of interest include:

  • Universal access to information
  • Copyright and intellectual property
  • Computer security and encryption policy
  • The first amendment and the Internet
  • Funding of science research
  • Privacy

ACM Policy98 Conference

Finally, I want to call your attention to ACM's flagship conference for 1998: Policy98 to be held in Washington D.C. May 10-12, 1998. Again, borrowing freely from Policy98's WWW pages we see that the conference plans to provide a multidisciplinary forum to stress the contribution that computer professionals can make in policy-making by providing informed testimony and expanded policy options.

The purpose of the conference is to increase the influence of computer professionals in shaping the future applications of computing by establishing an intellectual foundation for the computer professional and by reaching out to policy makers. ACM through USACM and SIGCAS is sponsoring this Computing Policy Conference that brings together relevant audiences from academia, government, industry and journalism. Leading experts in the field will be invited to discuss, debate and develop policies to manage the impact of these technologies to produce outcomes beneficial to society.

The conference structure includes distinguished keynote speakers, and panels of invited speakers in which attendees and the panelists engage each other in open discussions of the issues. Attendees will be able to participate in critical action working groups and diverse, stimulating workshops, and share ideas in a multidisciplinary environment for mutual enrichment and learning -- the ultimate goal being to affect the directions of computer science policy for the benefit of all.

Bob Ellis is Co-Chair of SIGGRAPH's Public Policy Committee. When last gainfully employed (1993), he was Sun Microsystem's representative on the Computer Systems Policy Project's (CSPP) Technology Committee and also co-managed Sun's external research program. Before that Ellis held computer graphics software development and management positions with Sun, GE-Calma, Atari, Boeing and Washington University (St. Louis).

Bob Ellis

The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.

The Ethics and Social Impact Track (May 10, 1998) is organized by SIGCAS to reach computer professionals interested in the ethical and social implications of computing. This includes professors of computer science, philosophers and social scientists, as well as industry and government professionals committed to the development of computer technology that benefits society. The focus of this track is on "Envisioning the Future" -- the role that computer professionals can play in building the future. This track will have papers, panels, posters and workshops as well as keynote speakers, all of which will be included in a conference proceedings. Attendees will have the chance to participate in critical action working groups to develop resolutions and position papers on how computer professionals might have a positive impact on the direction of public policy.

The Computing Policy Track (May 11-12, 1998) is sponsored by USACM to connect policy makers in government, associations and industry with the computer science professional community and the journalists who serve society by reporting on important issues in the computer science field. This track is organized around four specific policy issues, with a panel addressing each. Briefing books will be produced on the issues and distributed to attendees in advance of the conference. The policy focus issues for the conference are:

  • Universal service
  • Electronic commerce
  • Intellectual property in cyberspace
  • Learning on-line

SIGGRAPH is cooperating with Policy98, and I am working with the organizers to attempt to ensure that issues of interest to SIGGRAPH members are addressed.