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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Internet access for all
Keywords: Automation, Cybernetics, Research, Technological developments
Abstracts:Reports and surveys are given of selected current research and development in systems and cybernetics. They include: Interdisciplinary research, Innovations, Formal methods for safety-critical systems, Biocybernetics, Internet access for all, Management cybernetics, Cybernetics and automation, Shrinking the robot.
Internet access for all
The UK Government Minister Mr Alan Howarth announced last November (1999) that the Gates Foundation is giving some £2.5 million to the scheme, which had been initiated to provide a network of high technology learning centres in the UK. The scheme aimed at setting them up in the deprived areas of the UK. The centres are being developed in libraries and are called information and communication technology centres. They will ultimately form links with other libraries and outside bodies such as schools, forming what will become an information network linked to the Internet. This is the sort of network envisaged by cyberneticians many decades ago when, of course, suitable technology and know-how were not available.
The scheme is being paid for partly by the foundation set up by Bill Gates' company Microsoft, which is very much involved in funding information technological initiatives worldwide. At the world's biggest computer gathering held in Las Vegas last year (see comment and report of Comdex 1999 in this issue), Bill Gates gave the keynote address on future advances in computer products and applications. The scheme initiated in the UK was started by the Library and Information Commission. It has as its main goal the provision of centres so that no one is barred from taking part in the "Internet revolution". At the launch of the scheme the UK Government Minister for the Arts, Mr Alan Howarth, said that:
At the press of a button you can have access to everything from cut-price books and CDs to holidays and job opportunities, yet millions of our fellow citizens have yet to switch on a computer. Everyone must have the opportunity to make the most of what new technology has to offer.
The aim has been to set up the new centres in areas of the greatest need, and locations are being announced.
The UK Government commitment is regarded as being rather "late in the day" by its critics. Certainly the "computer revolution" seems to occur almost every year and has done so since the late 1950s in the UK. There are now promises of serious action with high tech schemes not only in the libraries that will house these centres, but also in the schools where more equipment and information technology aware staff are being funded. Last year three projects were highlighted that involved funding from the National Lottery New Opportunities Fund, which involved a £250 million information technology training for teachers and librarians scheme
Other UK Government initiatives announced included financial support for poorer families to enable them to have a PC at home and access the Internet. Problems have, however, been encountered in assessing whether poorer families would be able to meet the current ongoing costs of the telephone charges and the Internet server charge; even with "free" software there are hidden charges involved. Since the initiation of these programmes many "free servers" have become available and telephone charges reduced for Internet connections. Many countries worldwide make no charge for connections to the Internet.
Recently, many computer companies are offering "free PCs" to schools, or the opportunity to save "tokens" so that software can be purchased at a reduced price and even a 500Mhz PC provided free of any other charges. Cyberneticians who introduced computers into the educational sector many years ago are now enthusiastic about such plans but, apart from the efforts made in the industrialised countries, there is a great deal of work to be done in many others. Foundations such as the Gates Foundation need to prompt national governments into action if the promised "revolution in computing" and the evolution of the information society are to be encouraged.