For debate in the Standing Committee - see Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure

Pour débat à la Commission permanente – Voir article 47 du Règlement

Doc. 8400

6 May 1999

Information society and a digital world

Report

Committee on Science and Technology

Rapporteur: Mr Oussama Cherribi, Netherlands, Liberal, Democratic and Reformers Group

Summary

      Digital technologies are assuming an increasingly prominent place in everyday life, both in the more traditional areas and in the field of new information and communication technologies. Digital is the common language for information, whether in the form of text, pictures or video images. Digitisation, ie the conversion of information into a string of 0s and 1s, provides a common denominator for telephone, television, radio, camera, camcorder or computer signals.

      The direct effect of digitisation is convergence, defined as the ability for different media to carry basically similar services. In other words, the various types of equipment used by the public at large, such as telephones, television and personal computers are merging to an ever greater extent. This may ultimately lead to a single terminal: a multimedia computer or home cinema.

      One of the least glamorous but most crucial aspects of information and telecommunication technologies is standardisation. It benefits service providers, equipment manufacturers and users, bringing them lower costs and uniform services. This is to everyone's advantage, from residential users, whose fixed and mobile handsets should be cheaper and with more features, to managers of multinational companies, who want to see the same standards implemented in every country they work in. The report therefore suggests further co-operation in this important area.

      Europe must take advantage of the opportunities offered by the proliferation of digital technologies in order to put in place a favourable environment for job creation, growth, increased choice for citizens and promoting cultural diversity. Consequently, a series of measures have been proposed to member states and the European Union, concerning: education networks, open access for all, virtual enterprises and electronic commerce, data security, as well as specific problems like the millenium bug.

      A strong call is made for further cooperation regarding research and development in the area of information and communication technologies.

I.       Draft resolution

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly draws attention to the growing importance of the information society and the digital world that are being created by rapidly developing information and communication technologies.

2.       The establishment of a proper balance between the various components of the digital world is the main challenge for the democratic development of the information society.

3.       Given the complex relationships between the expanding digital world and the emerging information society, it is important to ensure improvement in the quality of information and communication technologies, while pursuing the aim of increased wellbeing for citizens.

4.       Consequently, the Assembly, recalling its Recommendation 1332 (1997) on the scientific and technical aspects of the new information and communications technologies, calls on member governments and the European Union to:

i. establish European education networks using the existing Web infrastructure and, where feasible, the method of virtual classes to educate people quickly on the most recent developments in the digital world;

ii. make sure that access to such networks will be open to all, if necessary by the introduction of fiscal or other relevant measures;

iii. assess in close co-operation with industry, professional associations and cultural organisations the feasibility of promoting through appropriate measures systems of networking between simple individual terminals and shared, reliable and powerful processing capacity;

iv. facilitate technological developments favourable to the expansion of electronic commerce;

v. support the development and the deployment of broad-band communication channels (including wire-less communication);

vi. ensure the interoperability of digital libraries, in order to maintain diversity and unconstrained access to the cultural and scientific heritage of nations across borders, and across linguistic or cultural barriers;

vii. improve continuously the legal and organisational framework of virtual enterprises and define procedures for managing and operating them, thus fostering the creation of new opportunities for economic growth and employment;

viii. give support to inter-disciplinary teams of specialists, working to improve intelligent data handling systems (recommender systems);

ix. study the use of new information and communication technologies as part of the promotion of electronic democracy through improved direct contacts between voters and their elected representatives;

x. develop laws and intensive studies on reforming law enforcement agencies, in order to check the inevitable flood of information technology crimes, while, in the meantime, encouraging the use of new information and communication technologies and promote ethics and codes of good behaviour;

xi. support, in co-operation with industry, research on such issues as data security, digital signatures, "watermarking" of digital information to trace copyright violations, coding to protect against obscene and offensive materials;

xii. encourage data retrieval and storage ("warehousing") to gather information needed for the identification of various complex multi-dimensional relationships in the digital world (natural disasters, social transformations, etc.);

xiii. encourage research and development of strategies for preventing, locating, eliminating and/or tolerating possible faults occurring in various components of the digital world;

xiv. work out scenarios and procedures for coping with crises resulting from imminent faults, of which the most imminent manifestation is the millennium bug;

xv. review the status of preparations for the millennium bug, and in particular, consider individual responsibilities at various levels and create crisis units to handle emergencies should they appear;

xvi. support research and development in non-technical disciplines concerning the digital world and the information society such as new economics resulting from the changed nature of work, new paradigms of educational, ethical, sociological and philosophical issues resulting from the changing style of human life;

xvii. promote the establishment of standards for collaborative computing, with particular emphasis on those standards related to the end-user interface, administrative procedures, communication media and protocols.

II.       Explanatory memorandum by the rapporteur 1

      Paragraphs

Foreword

I.       INTRODUCTION       1-6

II.       COMPONENTS OF A DIGITAL WORLD       7-21

      a.       Definitions       7-10

      b.       Components       11-19

      c.       Application areas       20-21

III.       FROM WEB PROCESSING TO COLLABORATIVE COMPUTING       22-39

      a.       Web-based information systems       22-25

      b.       Digital libraries       26-31

      c.       Virtual enterprises       32-35

      d.       Digital governments       36-39

IV.       STANDARDIZATION CHALLENGES IN THE DIGITAL WORLD       40-45

      a.       Technical aspects       40-43

      b.       Organisational aspects       44-45

V.       OBJECTIVE AND THREATS FOR THE INFORMATION SOCIETY       46-70

      a.       Data and system quality       46-49

      b.       Dependability aspects       50-60

      c.       Human life quality       61-70

VI.       CONCLUDING REMARKS       71-79

Foreword

      This report results from three motions submitted to the Assembly, on Digital technologies and their applications (Doc. 8092), Standardisation in the field of information and communication technologies (Doc. 8104) and Millennium-compliance of computer systems (Doc. 8141).

      The report attempts to identify the major characteristics of the digital world and its relationship to the emerging information society. Vital problems of the information society's life are indicated, the role of standardisation in solving them is explained and prospects and limitations for these solutions are discussed.

I. Introduction

1.       According to Moor’s law, that microchip density doubles every 18 months, in 15 years from now we will have 106 times more processing power then today. Some more radical predictions, assuming a shift from aluminium to copper circuitry, the use of multi-bit transistors and the inclusion of parallelism, claim that Moor’s law will be exceeded. This means that sometime near year 2025 we will have display and computation capabilities to produce images that are both physically accurate and perceptually impossible to distinguish from real-world scenes.

2.       Human communication capabilities will be vastly enhanced within the same period. Connecting the Earth with voice telephony has just been accomplished using both cable based and wire-less technologies. Now, at the beginning of a new century, another revolutionary model for communication has become a reality. This is a model based on the Internet, where communication takes the form of digital packets, routed from a host computer to other hosts, according to the Internet Protocol (IP). A network of the future will invert voice and pictures to look like data. The natural medium of exchange will most likely be the IP packet. The future plug on any household's wall will offer the IP dial tone.

3.       The total number of hosts (computer nodes) on the Internet doubles world-wide annually and it is estimated that the present annual growth of data traffic in the Internet backbone will go up from a factor of 4 to 10. Since the traffic grows faster than the number of users, it is clear that the average user consumes more and more bandwidth each year. If data traffic keeps growing by an annual factor of 10, data traffic will probably equal voice traffic in the next few years. As a consequence, integration of multimedia content, embedded signalling and the integration of the computer and telecommunication environments on the desktop will become a reality. The system is becoming unlimited and the infrastructure may well be provided by many competing service providers, each with a rich choice of technology alternatives.

4.       Software engineering is a key technology in applications advanced in different domains. Large project development has almost been a group activity, with various engineers and domain experts collaborating to successfully complete a project. Tools that support these activities are viewed as co-operative work, or groupware, applications. Groupware applications include brainstorming, decision making, strategic planning, problem solving, conflict resolution, and software inspection, which let people at different locations cooperate in creating, organising and sharing information during software development.

5.       Evolution of software systems is inevitable and some programs, like the Evolutionary Design of Complex Software (EDCS) program established in 1996 [4], are aimed at making that evolution better, faster and cheaper. The idea is to change the software lifecycle into a continuous evolution of software products. Potential needs of the product software (system) are considered with respect to its essential architecture in step-by-step interactions. Developers take a more holistic view of a system, capturing and representing functional and non-functional qualities alike. Design activities are collaborative, reflecting negotiations among all project participants. All critical information affecting the system evolution must be captured and stored.

6.       Integrated collaboration environments are being created. They provide a general- purpose framework that enables collaboration with tools to interact and share information without having knowledge of each other’s experience in advance. In consequence various applications are created and widely used. Software technologies are undergoing considerable improvement in their supporting hardware, communications, operating systems, compilers, databases, programming languages, and user interfaces. In turn, those improvements are fuelling yet more advanced applications. Owing to this, many people tend to see a new beginning, an opening of the information age, which creates a new kind of world.

II. Components of a digital world

a.       Definitions

7.       Digital technologies and their applications allow developing different information processing systems that create a new environment called a digital world. It is not only about digital technologies, but first of all about new dimensions for human activities performed in the physical space of the real world. A digital world has a multi-layered structure, where the lowest layer is called a system layer. A system layer has many components of which the most important ones are computing platforms, telecommunication networks, databases and the application software. The Web layer has many components of which the most important ones are: the computing environment (system and data management, user processes and application development), delivery systems (including telecommunication networks), data (stored in various forms of databases) and the application software (performing information processing and strongly relying on API).

8.       Components of a digital world may be viewed from different points and named in different ways. One view is a cyberspace, perceived as a virtual world formed by global computer networks, middleware and related applications. Another view is the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) commonly called the Web. It brings together various services (E-mail, remote logging, file transfers, discussion groups, etc.) and incorporates global document search engines. Such terms as global village or information highways refer to functional components of a digital world.

9.       People using services available in a digital world slowly change their life habits and become members of a growing information society. In comparison to the industrial society created by the industrial revolution, which processes materials with machinery consuming available energy, the information society processes information with systems consuming available computing resources. Rules that define the relationships between people and governments in the real world cannot effectively cope with the interaction modes introduced by digital technologies. In consequence new rules are necessary.

10.       The simplest form of computing resources is a set of tools to assure access to data representing some information or knowledge. A more complex form is a set of systems exploring data and processing the related information or knowledge. The most complex form is an infrastructure for getting an on-line access to individuals, organisations or governments world-wide and incorporating them into one coherent network. Possibilities of extending the digital world are enormous, so description of major trends and interrelationships of its components can be described by characterising the most important information processing systems which include: database systems, data warehouse systems, real-time embedded systems, retrieval systems, recommender systems, virtual reality systems, virtual classrooms, home computing, marketing systems.

b.       Components

11.       Database systems are designed and maintained to store digital data representing various kinds of information. Digital data are easy to capture and fairly inexpensive to store. Recently people change their attitudes to databases from logic-oriented queries to visual articulation of queries and visual interpretation of search results. Visual information means enormous volumes of digital data. Modern databases have to cope with the changing nature of data and their associations, user preferences and new habits, shifting the focus from precise, well-formed queries, and probably correct search results, to the “I know it when I see it” paradigm. Such a query environment requires embedding animation and visual manipulation of data.

12.       Data warehouse systems are collections of historical data, stored in a form enabling its retrieval throughout an enterprise or organisation. They can be analysed by an on-line activity processing or by post-processing using data exploration (mining) techniques and statistical tools to find analytical relationships. Data warehouses are built to answer concrete business problems and allow for assembling and managing data from various sources. The Web should facilitate effective data mining and reasoning techniques, being actively researched by artificial intelligence.

13.       Real-time embedded systems consist of simple hardware (microcontrollers, microprocessors, ASICs) and low-level programming code (so called firmware). They are used to monitor, regulate and control various types of industrial objects. Besides performing local real-time processing they can be connected to computer networks in a form of the 3-tier architecture in order to perform remote operations.

14.       Retrieval systems are used for exploiting databases and data warehouses with significant degree of physical distribution. The Web contains a growing wealth of visual information, but the technologies for searching for such an information are inadequate. So far, a limited bandwidth constrains functionality of visual retrieval systems, among which are virtual museums, on-line news reporting, photography databases, on-demand videos, etc. Special stores of knowledge linking dictionaries, encyclopaedias, tutorial texts, formal documents, specifications of open problems, etc. are being organised. Computer-friendly encoding and user-friendly presentation of the accumulated knowledge is being currently researched.

15.       Recommender systems take some input provided by users in a form of recommendations, which are next aggregated and directed to appropriate recipients. The Web is an overwhelmingly large information space and an effective medium for providing personalised recommendations of an undisputed value. Many commercial ventures have recently introduced recommender systems to products ranging from catalogues of Web-site addresses to concrete pieces of music, videos and books. Recommender systems require techniques related to expert systems, intelligent search agents, negotiation and decision support systems.

16.       Virtual reality systems integrate computer graphics, human-computer interaction, operating systems, programming languages, etc., and exploit distributed computing in entertainment, medicine and education. With virtual reality computers are able to conform to human standards and conventions of behaviour and communication. The Web moves forward to enable productive communication. It uses already several different styles: home pages of groups and individuals, FTP sites with software and documents, mailing lists, news groups, etc. They are still not adequate enough, and a lot of effort is put to organise various computing resources on the Web into a coherent framework to provide a better access, less redundancy and a higher quality of presentation.

17.       Virtual classrooms are believed to improve the overall quality of teaching by establishing a permanent connection to the Web. For example, in US all schools are expected to be connected by the year 2000, in Germany 44,000 schools will be connected by the year 2003, while in the United Kingdom over 10,000 schools have been connected in 1998. Most of the projects aimed at bringing the Web to a classroom assume that it will become less document-oriented and will evolve into a communication medium, incorporating basic audio and video features of analogue media, including face to face interaction. For example, a Global Lab Curriculum program developed in US [10] involved children from 300 schools in 30 countries over the world. A similar Global Learning to Benefit the Environment program has served 500 schools in 70 countries [10].

18.       Home computing is developing in a way similar to telephony. Early telephones were primarily used by highly educated and financially well standing professional people. Later telephones were marketed for communication between the job and home, home shopping, arranging visits, etc. Substantial portion of the digital world's growth is occurring at home. There is only a little understanding about how on-line services available on the Web can affect people's lives at home. Various businesses press on the broadcast capabilities of the Web to deliver information, advertisements and entertainment to the households of potential consumers. Additionally, people at home seem to value the Web for a personal use, to maintain social relationships and to participate in local communities.

19.       Marketing systems capitalise on the rapid expansion of on-line shops and electronic catalogue firms on the Web. Two generations of marketing systems are currently available. The first generation systems focus on the Web as a predominantly electronic publishing medium. The second-generation systems may include the first generation ones, but also take the advantage of interfaces to databases that help to provide much richer services than before. Marketing systems incorporate functionality’s of other Web based systems like negotiations, information search, recommendations, purchase and after purchase evaluation.

c.       Application areas

20.       A variety of application areas representing different fields of activities in the information society can be identified along with the digital world components. Their list is rapidly growing and is beyond the scope of this report. Those that already would not be possible without digital technologies are: banking, air-traffic, transport, medicine, telecommunications, social insurance, tax services, and many more.

21.       Combination of digital world components with possible activities of the information society can create endless possibilities for implementing application systems. For example, a virtual reality system for anatomical imaging combined with a multimedia teleconferencing system can help in remote diagnosis of patients and enable international consulting in medicine. Data warehousing in economics may allow collecting and retrieving information necessary for making a prognosis for a selected region of countries. With the help of a recommender system an international team of experts can work out a framework for enforcing laws on the Web.

III. From web-processing to collaborative computing

a.       Web-based information systems

22.       Applications to be developed in the digital world exhibit certain structural similarities as far as software engineering principles are regarded. There are three general classes of organisation of such applications. They relate to way they can handle information and interact with the user: a digital library, a virtual enterprise and a digital government.

23.       A digital library involves search, collection and dissemination of information by interested users. This is similar to a common library, where people look for specific books with the help of catalogues and librarians borrow them to read (use) in a pre-defined period of time, and then return unchanged to a common repository.

24.       A virtual enterprise is formed within a large corporation as a part of business aliases or task forces, as well as a group of individuals working independently off any corporate connections, to achieve a common goal, using a shared information space, co-ordinating effort, and willing to share the work results. The goal may involve one big task, or a set of smaller, but multiply related tasks to be completed in a finite period of time, predictable in advance.

25.       A digital government is designed to perform a set of multiply related tasks, requiring including procurement of certain activities, recruiting people, reaching group consensus, etc. The tasks usually form a complex hierarchy and involve multiple-way interaction between participants. They have no specific completion time, as they are to be continued until the related institution can complete its mission.

b.       Digital libraries

26.       Linking the world’s diverse intellectual and cultural collections into one (possibly world-wide) digital library will lead to deeper understanding and wider co-operation between groups of individuals, communities or nations. Owing to digital technologies, physical libraries can develop digital representation of all kinds of visual images and sounds. On the other hand, the Web enables various businesses and cultural organisations to offer their materials world-wide.

27.       A fundamental challenge to realising a goal of a world-wide digital library is to link individual digital libraries over their physical boundaries. The problem of linking different systems into one is called interoperability. In the case of digital libraries three levels of interoperability are required: technical, informational and social.

28.       Technical interoperability of digital libraries is concerned with hardware, networks, data types and compatibility of related software applications and protocols. It concentrates on integrating all special types of information, such as multimedia resources, audio and video processing, coding schemes, etc. Much effort is being spent on expressiveness of the presented information, such as 3D animation or audio and video presentations, as well as speech recognition and multi-modal human computer interaction.

29.       Informational interoperability involves content scope, language, naming conventions, semantics and user interfaces. In concentrates on such problems as enabling users to browse documents written in a foreign language, to formulate queries in a language other than the original one, to get an automatically translated summary of documents written in a foreign language, and so on.

30.       Social interoperability is concerned with personal and organisational rights and responsibilities, among them satisfying a need for various groups of interested individuals, to understand their personal points of view, and then to agree to co-operate.

31.       For example, the Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) has been co-ordinating international efforts to provide distributed search and retrieval of cultural heritage information [15]. CIMI explores emerging standards, such as Z39.50, to break interoperability barriers for users attempting distributed search and retrieval in the networked environment.

c.       Virtual enterprises

32.       The Web can support changing the work processes existing in a real company to reduce schedules by enabling interdependent activities to be performed in parallel, as it provides a general means for distributed team collaboration of scientists, designers, manufacturers, consultants and clients. Specifically, it must provide navigation-structures designed to support specific work-flows, data models to represent relationships between pieces of information, interactive processing of data, support for distributed collaboration work style and integrity of mission-critical tasks.

33.       A generic model of a virtual enterprise consists of actors, activities, communications and decision making. Actors in a distributed team are nodes that perform work and information processing. Activities are assigned to actors and may generate communications or decision making. A communication is a packet of information that is generated and sent by one actor, and received and processed by another. Decision making is performed by authorised actors based on communications received from other actors.

34.       Since it is possible to produce information of any kind and value, set it loose in the Web space and leave it to be encountered by somebody in the future, virtual enterprises can exceed boundaries between companies, organisations and countries. They are new, independent "life-forms" that populate a constantly expanding digital world. For example, public domain programs are developed by volunteers, tested by enthusiasts, and used by everybody, and often mature to significantly large, complex and very good products competing with commercial companies products. The most significant is the case of Linux, a fully developed Unix system available for free, and being constantly upgraded by thousands of programmers world-wide. This form of a virtual enterprise produces freeware software, delivered in a source form for further modification.

35.       Another representative example is the Intelligent Synthesis Environment (ISE) being developed in the US by NASA and the University of Virginia since 1997 [11]. It consists of four components: human-centred-computing, an infrastructure for distributed collaboration, rapid synthesis and simulation tools, which connects teams, processes and technologies from 16 countries working on the International Space Station "Alpha" to be operated in orbit for the next 25 years.

d.       Digital governments

36.       Citizens in the 20th century are concerned more about their health and wealth on a day-to-day basis than about their government leaders and policies. This is a kind of stagnation, making communities to interact with their representatives on an election-to-election basis. On line communities being based on the back of the Web have started to change that old form of democracy. On-line communities provide a space for dynamically created groups of citizens. Such a group, called a virtual community, is set up to animate a dialog on making an initiative and then performing an action concerning that group or the entire society.

37.       Any virtual community will eventually rely on electronic voting, which may use public or private (home) terminals and drive votes of politicians democratically elected by the constituency in which that virtual community has been set up. This may apply to the city council, local governments and national assemblies as well.

38.       Politicians may now be called on to meet regularly with their constituency on the Web, especially via video-conferencing links, and take bids from the people. Owing to this interaction, they can feel the power of their community, but at the same time can drive the entire process. The Web already provides a means for wiring citizens to their governments. This improves democracy by extending a degree to which the government can be taken by the people.

39.       Although digital governments are yet to be invented, initiatives already exist to make it happen at the beginning of the 21st century. For example, the National Science Foundation, the Government Information Technology Services Board, and the National Institutes of Health in the US investigated the use of digital technologies within the federal government, and have issued a report on the findings with a list of recommendations for the research committees and governmental information service providers [20].

IV. Standardization challenges in a digital world

a.       Technical aspects

40.       There are international committees for the development and refinement of various standards required for the digital world, what benefits service providers, equipment manufacturers and users, reduces costs of the information society and unifies services. In general, each component of the digital world should be standardised, which is rather impossible in reality. Therefore main efforts are concentrating on issues which are essential for the continuos development of the information society. Unfortunately there is no one commonly accepted norm for the Graphical User Interface (GUI), so the abundance of features provided by competing vendors makes it often incomprehensible for non-technical users.

41.       Computer users often cannot take immediate advantages of the rapid improvements in processor performance, as they are working with the software optimised for earlier processor generations. Utilisation of multiple versions of the same software for different hardware models is expensive and can irritate users. Solutions are the Application Programming Interface (API) and the Virtual Interface Architecture (VIA). API is a middleware layer able to adapt applications to variances of hardware architectures. VIA enables delivery of data with low latency and sustain high bandwidth.

42.       The JAVA virtual machine is based on a similar concept to API and VIA, where the intermediate representation of the code is architecture-neutral and is interpreted not executed. The concept of architecture-neutral code can be extended to heterogeneous distributed platforms supporting the digital world. This leads to the postulated Plug and Play (PnP) solutions. PnP is a complex problem of itself, being investigated by universities and industrial companies, and various consortia have been created to define standards for PnP. One example is the Airbus Industries consortium, which concentrates on interoperable CAD and CAM tools and their use in designing aircraft systems. Another example is the Advanced Information Technology (AIT) consortium, which is developing design and engineering tools for the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) platform. CORBA is currently the main technology enabling Web-based information systems, as it allows specifying a variety of programming interfaces for specific applications in a standard way.

43.       The AIT consortium has developed an information technology reference model comprising three levels: manufacturing of the application software, the integration platform, and the basic information technology infrastructure. The manufacturing layer is further subdivided into business support applications like CAD, work-flows and video-conferencing. The integration platform provides naming, access control, conversion system management, design and coding, and engineering services specific to CORBA. The information technology infrastructure represents concrete applications, manufacturers, suppliers, vendors, universities and research organisations which pull together complete manufacturing systems from distributed software components.

b.       Organisational aspects

44.       Existing information systems, mostly those used by government like organisations, exhibit a vertical structure, designed for specific applications, data sets and mission areas. One example is a typical ministry forming a pyramid, with the minister at the top, then deputies, directors, departments, and other units going the entire hierarchy down to individual officers and other personnel. Dynamic creation of virtual agencies, designed for solving a particular problem requires a horizontal organisation of units. Horizontal systems have the advantage for virtual agencies, since they are scaleable, distributed and portable; these capabilities have not been yet contemplated by governmental information providers. Applied research programmes, aimed specifically at national information services are needed.

45.       Converting a vertical information structure into a horizontal one is a big research problem and challenge. It is possible to adopt a standard three-layer structure, with the application layer on top, the database layer at the bottom and the middleware layer in between. Applications of the top layer, serving the virtual agencies, will share common middleware component technologies, while databases will provide all the necessary data for processing, retrieving and exploring the accumulated information or knowledge. Middleware technologies, yet to be developed, will have to provide services including: authentication, synopsising, translation, auditing, accounting, indexing, access of control and searching. This is a large conceptual domain for defining new research and development projects.

V. Objectives and threats for the information society

a.       Data and system quality

46.       Data quality plays an important role in each society. The observed data problems related to this issue involve the lack or volatility of data, ambiguous data, meaningless data, and incorrect or inconsistent data. Data quality can be analysed from different points of view, including people, groups or other sources generating information, people who provide and manage computing resources for storing and processing information, and people or other systems using information. There is no general agreement on information quality attributes, because data users can have inconsistent opinions. It is often necessary to balance conflicting requirements for data quality.

47.       Ensuring high quality of data is much more difficult than is the case of manufactured goods, because it requires constant measurement and evaluations. The social and economic impact of poor quality data costs billions of dollars annually. The information society must be aware of this fact.

48.       Apart from human aspects, data quality depends on information processing system quality. Performance and dependability are two important quality attributes there. While performance is concerned with the speed of processing, dependability has to do with system reliability, availability, fault-tolerance, safety and security. Digital technologies constantly improve quality of digital world components. At the same time, new application areas raise quality requirements, as the related systems get more responsible. There is no any universal methodology for improving quality of the Web-based information systems.

49.       One practically unsolvable problem following from the fact that the digital world is expanding is whether there are any internal limitations to its expansion. Some day we may start to spell WWW opaquely as “World Wide Wait”, and PnP as “Plug-and-Pray”!

b.       Dependability aspects

50.       A dependable system performs its functions (services) correctly, provided some limited anomalies (bugs, faults) have occurred. Various anomalies can be observed in the digital world, and they cannot be clearly attributed to just data, a concrete processing system or people using it. There are many examples, from temporary traffic overheads or hardware malfunctions, through programming bugs or user errors, to intentional human intrusion.

51.       Techniques for improving system dependability are information redundancy, functional redundancy and time redundancy. They, however, cannot guarantee 100% system dependability. In some special cases human actions are necessary.

52.       The question arises whether organisational structure of the digital world components will ever collapse, and whether this collapse can be catastrophic. The answer may be sought by using safety analysis. Unfortunately, owing to the complexity of interaction between various digital world components, this problem is known to be unsolvable. Two views are equally popular on this. One is optimistic and says that only local disturbances will be observed, while another is pessimistic and predicts a total catastrophe. It seems that the latter will not occur after all, since many systems are already dependable and have been tolerating faults to a reasonable extent.

53.       There are three broad categories of faults in the digital world, resulting in anomalous behaviours: occasional, intentional and imminent. Occasional faults relate to a failed memory chip in a computer node, power fail at some remote site, a telecommunication company going on strike, etc. Intentional faults are caused by irregular events, like an unauthorised access or modification of some stored data, dissemination of confidential information, violation of intellectual property rights, etc. Imminent faults are never taken into account during a new product development and realised just before something bad might happen, usually after a long time of product exploitation.

54.       Imminent faults are the most dangerous. One example is when after having positively tested a new drug and releasing it to the market side effects are observed in the next generation of patients. Another example, directly related to the digital world is the millennium bug, also known as the Y2K problem. It follows from representing calendar dates (year, month and day) with six digits, where only two are used to represent the year. In consequence “00” may be interpreted by some systems as the year 2000 as well as the year 1900, with unpredictable consequences. The Y2K problem may occur in any system because of using data from a particular database, as well as because of some decision statements in the particular piece of binary code.

55.       The first day of the year 2000 is coming and we still do not have the true sense of how serious the Y2K problem really is. Studies to define the scope of the problem and the costs to fix it have produced rather inconclusive results, rising confusion and concern among users. This problem has caught the media’s attention, has captured the public’s imagination and it has provoked vivid responses from software and hardware vendors. Approaches for resolving and managing the related risks tend to focus on how particular tools and vendors can help.

56.       The Y2K problem is solvable, but the costs related to time and effort required fixing it in all systems world-wide is beyond imagination. In the case of particular countries, however, certain estimates exist. For example, it has been estimated in North America that budgeted or projected spending on the Y2K problem in various industries for the recent period 1997-99 will take an average portion of the total project cost equal to [8]: 7% in banking and financial services, 9% in energy, oil and gas, 10% in health care, 9,8% in insurance, 11,2% in manufacturing, and 12,5% in retail and distribution. Moreover, there is some evidence that most of the spending occurred in 1998, and took much less in 1999 – which means that the problem may now be already under control in technologically developed countries.

57.       Although it is generally known what should be done to fix the Y2K problem in any particular product, not every component of the digital world will be ready for the year 2000. Moreover, interoperability problems between Y2K compliant systems and the non-compliant rest may also result in bizarre and possibly unexplainable happenings. Crisis staffs should be organised to handle all the emergencies by responsible companies, organisations and governments.

58.       The Rapporteur recalls the Written Declaration n° 281 on the impact of the year 2000 problem on nuclear installation safety, which he initiated. The variety and types of computer software and embedded systems used in nuclear installations everywhere raise concerns associated with the potential impact of the Y2K problem on nuclear installation safety. In a broader sense, the Y2K problem may potentially impact generation, transmission, distribution, and the related business systems. This broad-based scenario is what makes this a complex issue to resolve.

59.       The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been asked by member states to serve as the co-ordination point for the exchange of information related to addressing this problem as it applies to the continued safe operation of nuclear installations. In response, the IAEA has established a special project to address the relevant nuclear safety concerns of the Y2K problem on NPPs and research reactors.

60.       Analysis of the Y2K problem has already indicated other problems related to limited formats of various data. For instance, the current network of 24 GPS satellites keeps track of data by recording the number of weeks using the modulo-1024 approach. This means that after the week 1024, which occurs at midnight on 21 August 1999, the week counter will reset to “0000”. This will be repeated over and over again every 20 years. Similar problems may pop-up in social security number systems, telephone exchanges, etc. Futuristically, the ISO standard date format will overflow in the year 10,000 and so cannot grapple with geological and astronomical time periods. The ultimate goal is establishing date and time formats, and developing an unambiguous storage methods for them, so that the information can be represented with any desired value.

c.       Human life quality

61.       The role of governments is to define and assure quality standards of the human life. There arises a question how quality of information processing systems may impact quality of life in the information society. They affect personal freedom, health, living, working conditions, education and so on. The above question may well be rephrased as whether the digital world brings the society more benefits than drawbacks.

62.       Realising the existence of the digital world’s drawbacks is very important to avoid reducing quality of human life in the future. These drawbacks fall into three categories: the inherent lack of personal time, lawlessness, and a diminishing personal responsibility. Because of the abundance of easily available information, individuals may spend more time on searching information to elaborate better decisions, but at the cost of their personal lives. Freedom and openness on the Web implies inevitable lack of laws governing its. Members of the co-operating groups on the Web may remain anonymous, and in some cases could wave personal responsibility from a “collective” decision maker.

63.       Simplicity of use, abundance of information, absorbing users with the excessive information search may lead to the decline of creative thinking. Sometimes quite impressive demonstration of a "fancy" knowledge accumulated from other sources instead of gaining it by real understanding when pursuing the truth may be misleading in the co-operative work of virtual enterprises.

64.       A digital world is not the same as the real one, despite many existing analogies, like: money (digital), commerce (electronic), crimes (digital), (cyber)wars between companies, entertainment (digital), addiction (games). It just vanquishes old problems and creates new problems, hard to be realised in a shorter term. Quality of life attributed to a digital world is relative.

65.       Lawlessness of the digital world is dangerous and leads to fuzzy understanding of the personal guilt. The industrial society is governed by the law, which is enforced by a credible authority. The information society requires nothing less. Professional societies, alumni associations, trade unions, political parties, family organisations, religious institutions and other bodies that cannot exist in the virtual form can help with this regard. Ethics will become again a common good, as the personal line of defence - it is quite practical on the Web not to do to others anything we would not like to be done to us.

66.       Tolerance becomes another practical and common good of the information society. A universal social space created on the Web makes usual insignia of culture, race or language less visible. It removes a distinction between “self” and “others”, since everybody is universally naked to moral judgement. Again, it is quite practical on the Web to forgive others, as we would like to be forgiven.

67.       A digital world introduces mechanisms for exploring and verifying interaction in developing new ideas. Centralised evaluation authority is replaced by a co-operating group of evaluators, whose evaluation becomes more significant. This does not imply, however, higher objectiveness of the group evaluation, which may still require some external point of reference.

68.       Each manufactured good depletes the store of available resources that, in the case of the industrial society, are irreplaceable materials and fuel. In the information society the material and the product is the information, which is also a currency of exchange and a carrier of work-flows and services. This is a new economy, where the collective wealth increases owing to information circulation.

69.       A basic principle of market economics is that people should pay for what they use, and they should be able to choose from competing choices - what drives prices down and keep them viable. The digital world also should tolerate a wide variety of pricing mechanisms that will stimulate free choice and competition. However, the problem of accounting in the Web is still open and there is no idea how it should be organised to preserve the existing freedom and openness.

70.       Surprisingly, the information society re-integrates work and life, like it was before the industrial age. Individuals do not distinguish the time of “work” and the time of “resting” as the separate parts of the day. They can work at home as well as type private E-mail from the office. Therefore it is not reasonable in the information society to structure work as though it were a factory work, for the sake of the overall human life quality.

VI. Concluding remarks

71.       Everyone should be aware that the real world is a complex space, where a digital world is one of many possible subspaces, intersecting one another. These subspaces range from the digital world, being created right now in front of our eyes, through the industrial world started in the 19th century, back to the stone age world of Amazon Indians or some African tribes still existing at various niches scattered all over the Earth. Each such world involves its own society, with its own problems, dreams and lives. The role of governments and politicians is to find a way to provide cohabitation of these worlds and preserve their heritage for future worlds.

72.       Governments will also affect the Web and its relationships to other components of the information infrastructure. Governments can contribute to the costs of operating the Internet, support its technology and development of standards, facilities of deployment, help monitor and resolve problems that cross network boundaries (research, education, government services).

73.       Companies will strengthen the Web business structure and enhance support for real-time and multimedia applications, and this will increase the demand for Web services. As a consequence, the requirement of the better protection of privacy, security and intellectual property becomes more evident.

74.       Developers are trying to come up with mechanisms for protecting (and profiting from) intellectual property rights and for protecting financial transactions over the Web. These efforts will be shaped with the modification of the existing laws, the passage of new laws pertaining to information ownership and privacy, the liability of service providers, and users for the protection of information assets. These laws will also affect the way people use the Web, as well as users decisions and service providers to implement security-related technologies.

75.       Expansion of the digital world means a lot of jobs will be lost while at the same time a lot of new jobs will be created. Changes relate to not only how we do our work, but also the nature of our work. This implies the necessity of creating and maintaing an up-to-date system of continuing education, specifically targeted towards adults.

76.       Both the systematically and chaotically accumulated heritage of mankind, preserved by a digital world, can be used by future generations to make virtual experiments with new ideas, which may have consequences not foreseeable at the time these ideas were conceived.

77.       A major consequence of the digital revolution is greater interdependence. Continents, countries and businesses are interconnected. A problem in one domain can cause a chain reaction. The Y2K problem is a chain problem with enormous political, economic and social implications. Government and industry have already taken steps to secure financial institutions, although this is still insufficient.

78.       OECD reports a lack of co-ordination and financial support to attack the problem of securing nuclear power plants in high risk locations such as Russia and Ukraine. Europe must put this problem at the top of the United Nations Council's agenda.

79.       European governments must also assure the security of vital public services in the region and its borders – electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, for example. We must manage this problem successfully in order to master the numeric revolution.

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Glossary of Acronyms

AIT

Advanced Information Technology consortium

API

Application Protocol Interface

ASIC

Application Specific Integrated Circuits

CAD

Computer Aided design

CAM

Computer Aided Manufacturing

CIMI

Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information

CORBA

Common Object Request Broker Architecture

EDCS

Evolutionary Design of Complex Software programme

FTP

File Transfer Protocol

GPS

Global Positioning System

GUI

Graphical User Interface

IP

Internet Protocol

ISE

Intelligent Synthesis Environment

ISO

International Standard Organisation

NASA

National Aeronautics and Space Agency

PnP

Plug-and-Play

VIA

Virtual Interface Architecture

WWW

World Wide Web

Y2K

The Year 2000 Problem

Reporting committee: Committee on Science and Technology.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.

References to committee:        Doc. 8092 and Reference No. 2280 of 26 May 1998; Doc. 8104 and Reference No. 2286 of 26 May 1998; Doc. 8141 and Reference No. 2305 of 22 June 1998

Draft resolution unanimously adopted by the committee on 27 April 1999.

Members of the committee: MM. Melnikov (Chairman), Birraux (Vice-Chairman), Tiuri (Vice-Chairman), Lekberg (Vice-Chairman), MM. About, Asciak, Bartos, Bauer, Beaufays, Brunhart, Cherribi, Cioni, Cunliffe, Duka-Zolyomi, van der Esch, Mrs Faldet, MM. Felici, Fernandez Aguilar, Frey, Gligoroski, Ivanov, Kitov, Kittis, Kolb, Kurucsai, Langthaler, Leers, Lengagne, Libane, Liiv, Maass, Marmazov, Mateju, Minarolli, Molnar, Mozgan, Niculescu, Niza, Lord Northesk, Olrich, Onaindia (Alternate: Mrs Guirado), Pawlak (Alternate: Luczak), Plattner, Rakhansky, Rapson, Raskinis, Rokos, Roseta, Ryabov, Scheer (Alternate: Wodarg), Skaarup, Steolea, Sungur, Theis, Turini (Alterante: Speroni), Uroic, Weyts, Wittbrodt, Yürür, Zhebrovsky, Mrs Zissi.

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries of the committee: Mr Lervik, Mr Torcatoriu


1 The Rapporteur wishes to express his deep gratitude to Dr Henryk Krawczyk, Professor of the Technical University of Gdansk, Faculty of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics, Dept. of Computer Architecture, for his excellent and substantial assistance in producing this report.

He wishes also to thank Mr Mikko Kosonen, Senior Vice-President, Strategy and Management Information (Nokia), Mr Otto Björklund, Head of Nokia Representative Office in Brussels, and Mr Francis Jutand, Scientific Director of the research centre of France Telecom (CNET), for their contributions.