33 Gould St.
West Roxbury, MA USA
Innovative or improved ways of doing things ; More equitable access to technology or electronic information ; Creation of new ideas, products, or services ; Technology transfer;
I work for Digital Equipment Corp., as a senior communications consultant in Corporate Employee Communications. But this article was not written for work and does not relate to my experience in work.
The attached article is 3450 words — far longer than your maximum. But I believe it will help you accomplish your stated goals.
The attached article shows my individual perspective on the value of the Internet. It does not involve any organization or project.
This was translated into Russian and published in the Oct. issue of ReNews, an electronic computer magazine put out by RELCOM in Moscow. I’m still trying to get it published in the U.S.
I hope this helps you further your goals.
Please let me know if and how you intend to use it.
SCANNING FOR GOLD — EXPERIENCES IN THE GLOBAL ELECTRONIC ENVIRONMENT
By Richard Seltzer
Today, many people at universities and high tech companies work and play in a vast interconnected electronic environment. As a writer, I am fascinated not by the whiz-bang technology that makes this possible, but rather by what people do with it and the kinds of relationships people build with one another as a result.
Soon these resources should become available to the general public. The vast, government-subsidized network — Internet — is going to be privatized and eventually opened to individual consumers. Already, some people are investing in expensive alternatives that provide some of the same kinds of services. Perhaps a few anecdotes, based on my experience on the Internet, can help show how these new capabilities can be useful and fun, and what this change in human relations might lead to.
Working at a distance
A couple years ago, I posted a request in rec.games.chess:
I have a unique set of chess games that might be of value to research in artificial intelligence or to developers of chess-playing software. I have been saving my son Bobby’s games as word processing files since the very first rated game he played in Oct. 1984. There are now 680 rated games on file — a continuous record from 9-year-old raw beginner to 14- year-old master. I believe that analysis of these games could provide valuable information about how one can learn and improve rapidly at chess. In the best of all possible world, I could foresee a valuable collaboration.
I soon got a reply from Bob Levinson, assistant professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). Funded by the National Science Foundation, his chess-playing program, Morph, was a departure from the “brute-force” programs that have recently captured the headlines for their accomplishments against human grand masters. Those machines use high speed circuits to search deeply through many possible lines of play. Morph on the other hand “learns from its mistakes.” It’s already a competent player, and it gets better from its own experience, rather than from humans specifically telling it how to evaluate a particular position and what move is best in such-and-such a case. He was interested in using Bobby’s games to “train” Morph, and having Bobby act as a consultant on the project.
I was able to send all the games (about a thousand pages of text) very quickly over the Internet. Since then we’ve sent him Bobby’s new games as they are played — about 200 more. And Bob Levinson and Bobby have carried on an intermittent dialogue about the project through electronic mail.
This summer Bobby will have an account on a computer at UCSC which he will be able to access over the Internet (using the “telnet” command) from the word processor in the basement of our house in Boston. That will enable him to play a more active role in the project. And in the future (as soon as he learns the C computer language), Bobby could actually write code for the project, working on-line at a distance of 3,000 miles.
The importance of this capability was made clear to me at a press conference with Russian officials at DECWORLD in Boston. The Chairman of the State Committee on Informatics and the director of a top scientific institute in Moscow described the current crisis in Russian science.
Jump-starting the free-market economy has led to an exchange rate that means a typical Russian scientist earns the equivalent of about $200 — not $200 a week or even a month, but $200 a year. Naturally, with the end of restrictions on emigration, the temptation to leave for lucrative employment in the West is tremendous. And those scientists who stay now find themselves isolated from the world scientific community.
Before, thanks to government subsidies, scientists could travel to conferences and had access to all the latest scientific literature. Now, because of economics, they are cut off. A year’s subscription to a western technical journal can cost the equivalent of one year’s salary. And round- trip airfare to New York, to attend a conference, costs the equivalent of four years’ salary.
Communication is the life-blood of science. Without it, Russian science will fall behind the rest of the world and become second-rate, unable to make significant contributions, and unable to prepare succeeding generations of top-level scientists. This would be a loss not just for Russia, but for the world.
“What about the Internet?” I asked. For the last couple years I have corresponded with a friend in Moscow over the Internet. I presumed that those who had access would be able to use it like we do here, as a gateway to tremendous libraries of information and a link with the worldwide scientific community. But the telecommunications infrastructure in Russia is antiquated and unreliable. Messages from the Internet can get through, but it takes a day or two for them to arrive and, typically, a third are lost due to technical difficulties and inefficiency. And the more sophisticated capabilities, such as access to distant computers, either aren’t available or aren’t practical because of the slowness of response.
Long-term, they have to rebuild their telecommunciations infrastructure, which will take many years and huge investments from western governments and businesses. But immediately, to preserve and revitalize serious top-level science in their country, they need high-speed links between key institutes in Russia and the Internet. With such links, Russian scientists could stay in touch with other leaders in their fields and keep up to date on the latest developments at low cost. And opportunities would rapidly open up for them to do significant work for foreign businesses at a distance, over the network. That way western businesses could benefit from their knowledge and talents, and the scientists would be able to earn western currency while staying in their homeland.
Yes, work at a distance is more than a curiosity and a game — for Russia today, it is a necessity.
But the real source of my enthusiasm is far more impractical. I like to look up at the shelf above my personal computer and know that in those floppy disks I have Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Aesop’s Fables, The Heart of Darkness, The Federalist Papers, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. Somehow, irrationally, I sleep better at night knowing that electronic copies of works like these are scattered throughout the world, and that they can be sent in seconds to thousands of new destinations. It gives me a sense of comfort to think that as long as there are free and open international computer networks, book burning is a futile exercise.
Richard Seltzer is an employee communications consultant for Digital Equipment. Before that, he was editor of such technical trade magazines as Electronics Test. A graduate of Yale (’69), he has an MA in comparative literature (Russian, French, and German) from the U. of Mass. His historical novel, The Name of Hero (set in Russia, Ethiopia, and Manchuria in 1900) was published by Tarcher/Houghton Mifflin. He successfully self-published a satirical fable The Lizard of Oz and a collection of children’s stories Now and Then and Other Tales from Ome. He recently finished a screenplay, Spit and Polish, which deals with reservists during the Viet Nam War, and a contemporary novel, Sandcastles. He lives in Boston with his wife and four extraordinary children.