PRISM Magazine Online - April 2000
Deans, Decoding and Droids

Frank L. HubandThis month's Prism features a profile of Kristina Johnson, who has taken full advantage of the many diverse opportunities available to new engineering faculty members. From developing a television series on physics for school-age children (in which she also starred as "Ms. Wizard"), to performing cutting-edge optoelectronic research and transferring the technology to the marketplace, she has amassed an impressive record of accomplishment. This past fall, Kristina Johnson accepted a new challenge--the position of dean of Duke University's College of Engineering. I am sure you will be impressed by her story.

To ensure the security of the United States, agencies of the federal government want access to all forms of electronic communications--especially those outside of the United States. These agencies use threats by terrorists and others wishing to cause harm to the United States to justify the need for such access. Until recently when technology firms won the right to sell encryption technology overseas, the U.S. government limited the distribution of highly secure encryption technology outside the United States. The negative impact of this restriction, of course, is that without secure encryption capability, legitimate financial transactions between U.S. citizens and those of other countries or among citizens of other countries are easily penetrated by a highly skilled code breaker. Since the world needs to be able to engage in secure financial and non-financial transactions, there exists a serious conflict between the needs of the government and the needs of its citizens. "A Compromising Situation" discusses this important issue.

Most of us probably first learned about robots through fiction, in which they often have humanoid form and capabilities comparable to those of human beings. In reality, robots developed thus far have had substantially less than human capability, and most have been developed to carry out fairly narrow tasks on the factory floor. However, the necessary elements of a more capable class of robots--from sensors and actuators to artificial intelligence--have developed dramatically, though we still have not attained the skill to create a robot that even approaches the capabilities of early science fiction. "Time for a Makeover in Robots" discusses these issues and how robotic technology is developing.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions. 


Frank L. Huband
Executive Director and Publisher