Thursday, July 06, 2006

An Internet Epidemiologist’s Day at Work

Dr. Susan Snow is an Epidemiologist in Newtopia State Health Department, in an imaginary province somewhere with good Internet connections.

Signing In—Security, Authentication, and All That
The health department, like many public buildings, requires identification for entry, but this is done painlessly with face recognition software, so that the security guard functions as receptionist and problem-solver rather than making decisions on identity from easily forged ID cards. In this health department, the recognition software functions like that being installed in Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs), with 3-dimensional images supplemented by infrared facial temperature measurements

Dr. Snow sits down at her computer desk. A few years ago, she had to sign into her computer with a password, but recently, a USB camera on her computer feeds her facial image to a program that identifies her and logs into her user account. If she leaves the computer, it recognizes her absence and logs off, logging on other authorized persons such as her assistant who may happen to sit down at the keyboard to use their own accounts.,1895,1945346,00.asp

The result is that she is verified as an authorized member of the Newtopia Health Department and her identity is recorded by each Internet program that she uses.
She is responsible and accountable for her use of the Internet, and those without such validation do not have access to the portion of the Net used for Health Department business. The pleasant part for her is that she does not have to give a password for each program she uses, and she can move without impediment from function to function on the Internet.

When she travels to epidemic investigations or meetings with her laptop, a similar device allows her to use her face rather than a password for identification, and, even if she uses someone else’s computer or one in an Internet café, she only needs to plug in the camera device to have full access to her normal facilities.

The Working Environment
Her work is completely on the Internet, using public programs offered through the browser. A few years ago, she became used to Google searches, gmail, and hotmail, and she began to use the Internet as a storage place for documents that she would email to herself. Now, however, she works in an Internet environment that offers word processing, document sharing and email seamlessly—doing her word processing in the email environment, or email in the document environment. The only difference is what happens to the documents when they are created. All go to her “file cabinet” and others are shared with various email contacts, with appropriate help for locating addresses at the time it is needed. Spreadsheets are merely another kind of document that can be shared with others.

All the work during a given day is indexed and saved on the Internet, much as in Blogger or similar programs. Dr. Snow can choose blocks of material to archive or delete, apply labels, publish to selected audiences, or send to others for review. As she works, relevant searches pop up beside the page, and she can pull references from one area to another. Some of the search results offer contact with expert colleagues in various parts of the world, and she can choose to contact them by clicking for voice or message contact. She gave up her telephone several years ago, and now controls voice contact by clicking, with appropriate clues about time zones, messages, etc. Telephone numbers are no longer needed, since email addresses are easier to use and serve the same purpose. The same camera that provides authentication also serves to add video to voice contact when desired.

She sometimes recalls the days when phone numbers had to be maintained along with Internet addresses, and she had a system in her head for remembering the passwords for 10 or 20 programs, credit card accounts, airline ticket vendors, and others who tried to offere their users security through the use of passwords and conflicting rules for constructing them. In a given day, she had entered a password 10 or 20 times, and at least once or twice had it rejected insultingly (“Have you forgotten your password?” …”NO, YOU IDIOT, I just typed it wrong, or I’m in the wrong program, or I just don’t want to think about your stupid thirty-dollar website service! Can’t you just tell me it’s the wrong password instead of making assumptions about my mental state?” ) . Of course, like everyone else, she had been forced to share passwords with colleagues so that they could access her computer when she was unexpectedly at home with a sick child. She is grateful for the face recognition method that allows access to the Net from anywhere, and incidentally has reduced the amount of erectile-aid and just-for-you spam to the vanishing point. Some major virus purveyors, fraud artists, and company saboteurs have been caught through the use of photos recorded when they accessed the Internet.


Processing documents…


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