People-oriented Universal Communication System
Hengning Wu, Acroscape
Abstract: The location-oriented communication system is the major obstacle to further development of the communication system. Identity theft, email spam, illegal music file sharing, electronic voting fraud, and frustrating telemarketing calls, all these problems can be solved with a people-oriented universal communication system. In contrary to common beliefs, the people-anonymous feature of the internet is causing the security and privacy problems. It is essential to add a people-oriented component to the internet. The people-oriented universal communication system will unify all the available physical networks and provide a common platform for efficient e-business solutions. The people-oriented universal communication system will finally make convergence a reality and enable tremendous growths in broadband and wireless communications with emerging business opportunities.
The current communication systems are location-oriented, but communication is fundamentally people-oriented. It makes sense to call somebody, and it normally does not make sense to call some place. However, in the physical world, the signals are always from one location to another location. When you call somebody, you actually call a certain phone at a certain location. When you plug in a computer to the internet, you have an IP address. We are so used to the system that we are very effective to get around this problem by first verbally identifying ourselves in a telephone conversation. There are some positive developments towards a people-oriented system, such as caller ID and carry-over of telephone numbers. But a truly people-oriented system has not been developed at present.
So what? While it was not a big deal in the old days, it is a fundamental limitation to the further growth of the communication system. The telecommunication downturn is a direct result of this limitation. On the one hand, the industry has built a large physical capacity anticipating a significant growth of communication. On the other hand, the structure of the system hinders the growth of data communication. Instead, we have experienced significant increases in undesirable communications, such as spams, illegal music file sharing, and frustrating telemarketing calls. The solution is the people-oriented universal communication system.
What is “the people-oriented universal communication system”? When computer guys talk about “people-oriented computing”, they normally refer to machine intelligence. To put it in another way, machines can understand human languages. However, in the context of the people-oriented universal communication system, “people-oriented” means that the physical networks have the capability to identify people. This is a very modest capability in comparison to the grand goal of machine intelligence. Even such a small step can make a significant difference in combination with the “universal” capability of the system. The “universal” capability simply means the system works universally with all physical networks.
The people-oriented universal communication system provides two basic services: identification service and digital signature service. Identification service is widely used in cell phone communication and digital signature using public key-private key algorithm is widely used in computer software. An important thing is a personal communication device with the identification and digital signature functions. This device is the universal personal communication controller. This is the place where you keep your personal information. In practice, this device can be coupled with a number of devices for more functions. For example, short-range communication devices such as infrared devices and blue tooth devices can be coupled to communicate with computers and intelligent appliances, a wireless phone device can be coupled for long range communication, and a PDA device can de coupled to have more functions. The personal communication device can itself be further protected from stealing by known methods such as a PIN number.
The public key-private key algorithm has a pair of keys: the public key is available to the public and the private key is kept in secret. In this case, the private key is securely kept in the personal communication device. When someone signs a digital document with the private key, a digital signature is produced. Other people can use the publicly available public key to check the digital signature. This is actually more convenient than the conventional signature in ink since ordinary people can hardly tell the difference of an authentic signature and a fake signature.
The basic information made public is the public key associated with a user. Since so many people may have the same name, a unique number is often used to represent a user instead of his actual name. This can be of the format of a phone number, such as 703 555 0001 for John Doe No. 1. A country code such as US can be attached to differentiate John Doe No. 1 in US from someone else in another country. For the user 703 555 0001, his public key can be located in the people-oriented universal communication system.
The seemly simple setup of the people-oriented universal communication system can perform three important functions. 1) Identification and digital signature. The system has the capability of identification both on-line and off-line. The off-line identification is provided indirectly through the digital signature. 2) Since the people-oriented universal communication system is independent of the physical network, it can be applied to all physical networks including fixed telephone network, wireless telephone network, satellite TV network, cable TV network, the internet, physical delivery networks including mail delivery and parcel delivery, and intelligent appliances. This effectively unifies all the physical networks and enables them to work together. For example, in a tele-work setting, you have computer documents and real time voice and video. You may use the internet for the document and a cable service for the voice and video. All of them can work seamlessly together with the people-oriented universal communication system. 3) Since the system is people-oriented, it provides a common platform for efficient e-business solutions. Therefore, we can have more efficient broadcasting system, payment system, shopping system, security system, ticket system, information system, and voting system.
As the people-oriented universal communication system will unify all the available physical networks and provide a common platform for efficient e-business solutions, it will create a huge market of hundreds of billion dollars from the traditional telecommunication industry to such industries as motion pictures, television, publishing, audio, personal computer, physical delivery, electronic appliances, and retail sale. This market-driven demand will fuel the healthy growth of the broadband and the wireless sectors.
In contrary to common beliefs, the people-anonymous feature of the internet is causing the security and privacy problems since some privacy-eroding methods (social security number, birth date, mother’s maiden name, etc.) eventually are used to identify people in a networked economy. The personal information scattered on the internet may easily become the targets of identity theft. The people-oriented universal communication system provides an easy method of identification with a high level of privacy and security. A number of companies are pursuing biometric identifications such as voice, fingerprint, face, and eye. Biometric identifications are fine within a closed system, but it is problematic for widespread uses. First, when a biometric method is widely used, it inevitably will run into the hands of some bad guys and become a source of identity theft. For example, fake fingerprints may be artificially prepared. Second, the computer biometric methods are not 100% accurate. A method with 99.9% accuracy will cause a lot of headaches when it is used as a form of identification. Some computer experts may also argue about the strength of the public key-private key algorithm. It is true that the algorithm can be cracked with an enough computation power such as the supercomputer used by National Security Council. However, the purpose here is to provide a reasonably secure method for everyday uses, just like ordinary door locks do for the office and home. The cost is very high to break it and the perpetrators can be easily caught. Therefore, the system is sufficiently secure for practical purposes.
Email spam is another problem caused by the people-anonymous feature of the internet. Even worse than spam, vicious emails can be sent under the disguise of a legitimate business or a friend. We do not have a way to properly identify the sender of an email at present. Once the people-oriented universal communication system is added to the internet, the internet obtains a people-oriented component. As a result, all emails can be properly associated with the senders with the digital signature, and a fee can be charged to the sender. For example, 2 cents can be charged to each email below the size of 100 kb. Higher fees can be charged to emails of larger size just like the conventional mail system. This will effectively stop the email spam and more vicious potential problems.
In addition, an email can be digitally “sealed” so that only the intended receiver can read the message. The public key of the receiver can be used to digitally encrypt the email message and an established procedure can be used to verify the identity of the receiver before “opening” the email message. When the people-oriented universal communication system is implemented, email will become a secure and trusted form of communication for personal and business purposes.
Digital signature of emails is already available in many email software. The issue here is to make it work in an open system and across different platforms. As the digital signature function is kept in a portable personal communication device, it works everywhere. This is a proactive and systemic approach to the email spam problem, while the email filtering software is a reactive approach. Often time, a strong filtering program will get rid of most spams and may at the same time delete a few useful emails.
There are many discussions about a free internet and digital equality. A fee for email may cause concerns to some people. Ten years ago, I read an argument for free internet. The rationale is like this: since we all use the internet like we breathe the air, the internet should be free as the air is free. There are two conditions for the free air: 1) there is a large enough quantity for everyone, and 2) it is readily accessible to everyone. So air is free but water is not necessarily free. Neither condition is satisfied for the internet. Currently people pay about $40 in US to have a broadband access and about $10 to $20 for a dialup connection. Some people cannot afford this access fee and they are denied an opportunity to use the internet. A more rational goal is like the US postal service. “Free” means the opportunity of free access. People are provided at least one form of free access and pay for the actual services received. If a farmer just wants to send 10 emails a month to his son at college, he pays only 20 cents.
A noticeable change with the people-oriented universal communication system will be the way people log into their computers and websites. You no longer need to remember many user names and associated passwords. You use your personal communication controller to identity yourself to the computer. New computers will be equipped with a wireless communication device such as an infrared device or a blue-tooth device. Old computers can be easily adapted to the new system with some software patch and an adaptor. Most websites have an anonymous section for the general public and a restricted section for members. The user name/password method is generally used for member login at present. People often forget their user name and password for a specific website. It will be a security concern to store the passwords in a computer.
Illegal music file sharing is a big problem with the music industry. On the positive side, it reflects the huge popularity with digital music files. The people-oriented universal communication system provides a legal method to distribute music files and protect the copyrights of the musicians. Just embed the public key of the user into the digital file. The program to play the music will identify the user before playing the digital file. Now the user can make many copies of this digital file for backup or for his many computers and digital devices. Others are not able to use this digital file. This method has obvious advantages over some previous methods in which the files can only be used in a specified computer. This also removes the privacy concerns of some prior techniques that a database is used to monitor the access of a digital file.
The same method can be applied to other copyrighted digital materials such as e-books, digital pictures, movies, and software. This will create a huge demand of data communication and business opportunities in communication and related devices. The method can also be used to control access to offices, homes, electronic appliances, vehicles, and other hardware. You use your personal communication controller like a universal key. This is really convenient in a university. Students come and go. You now have an easy way to change access control if you use a digital lock with this technology.
Much media coverage has also been given to potential large-scale frauds in electronic voting. The people-oriented universal communication system can provide an accurate, convenient and cost-effective voting system. In fact, the government does not even need to buy new voting machines. People can just use the personal communication controller to vote anywhere in the world over any available physical network whether it is the phone or the internet. The result will be counted and verified almost immediately.
A ballot electronic voting would be something like the following. An individual can register in an online voting system. Each vote is assigned a vote number and the individual can digitally sign the vote. The individual keeps a receipt with his digital signature. The system will keep separately: a table with the vote number and the candidate choices, another table for the vote number and the corresponding digital signature, and a third table with eligible voters and their voting status. These tables can be used for independent verification. The identity of the individual for a specific vote number remains secret. The voting result can be easily tabulated. As the individual can always check the record with his receipt, possible frauds on the system level will be detected. The first table can be published on a website for everybody to check their own vote.
People are frustrated with telemarketing calls. This is mainly a US phenomenon as the local telephone is charged with a fixed monthly fee instead of a time-based fee. Computer automated calls make it possible to make an extremely large number of calls at a very low cost. The collective time cost to consumers cannot justify the practice of random telemarketing calls. The people-oriented universal communication system will help reduce telemarketing calls. Just like conventional caller ID helps to ignore telemarketing calls, the true identification feature of the system works even better. Now you may block all calls from different local numbers of the same company. With the increase in data communication, it will make sense for telecommunication companies to switch to a traffic-based fee structure. This change will give an economical reason for telemarketing companies to make their calls more selectively.
In 2001, the dot.com bubble burst and the telecommunication industry went into a serious downturn. In theory, the people-oriented universal communication system was in a good time as a technical solution. In reality, most companies have not realized the fundamental root of the downturn in a mess of financial scandals and corporate bankruptcies. Financial remedies were implemented with massive layoffs in the high-tech industry. A few companies emerged more competitive, but the industry as a whole has not yet reached the business potential.
The people-oriented universal communication system can unify all the physical networks to enable them to work together and allow the independent development of the physical networks. This will create a prosperous telecommunication industry with cooperation and competition. Instead of competing for shrinking turfs, companies can take the opportunity to open new horizons of businesses. Some companies have realized the cooperative nature for the future of digital communication. In the future, people are connected with a variety of physical networks to a host of innovative services. Take the road network as an analog example. There are different companies building various roads, businesses and consumers can choose different delivery companies to ship the goods, and you can do it yourself with many options of vehicles. Similarly, we need to reconsider the regulations in the industry. Then we will have a dynamic and robust communication industry in the digital age.
On the government side, a communication network based on the people-oriented universal communication system can provide secure and reliable communication during an emergency response. In an emergency, communication between people and organization can be established with and between any available physical connections. Emergency response teams from different departments and government levels can communicate and cooperate ad hoc at any time anywhere. For law enforcement, the system can reduce the majority of false security alarms so that the resources can be more effectively used to deal with the real threats.
The digital revolution, like many previous technological revolutions, has its initial boom with some madness and the bubble burst. The real sustained boom will follow after some fundamental issues have been resolved. The people-oriented universal communication system is a fundamental technology for a long-lasting economic boom of the digital age.
About Acroscape: Acroscape is an independent invention business established by Dr. Hengning Wu in 2001. Acroscape focuses on innovative ideas with technological, economical and social significance. More information is available at http://www.acroscape.com.
Updated June 14, 2004