|Expanding Access to Science and Technology (UNU, 1994, 462 pages)|
|Session 2b: The technological experience: information resources and networks|
The discussion on session 2B began with an intervention by N. Streitz, who wanted to know what the actual usage of databases was and whether they were cost-effective; to his knowledge, "most of the scientific and technical databases are subsidized by governments." N. Dusoulier explained that all databases in scientific and technical fields were in fact underutilized, but that when talking about cost-effectiveness, one should take into account the revenues derived from the various by-products, such as CD-ROMs and publications produced from these very databases. She confirmed that, with a few exceptions, databases in these fields are subsidized by governments or scientific societies.
Next, F. Thompson took the floor to state that "databases can be a costly trap" because once a corporation has invested in the creation of a database, its obsolescence can cause real difficulties; and yet bringing the database up to current technology could be very costly. N. Dusoulier agreed that maintenance of databases is costly, particularly because technologies are moving very fast, updating databases is expensive, and the cost of securing qualified staff is high. This is why "so many databases are created and then disappear."
The next intervention was made by D. Torrijos, who wondered why cooperation in database production was disappearing. She thought that this kind of cooperation was especially useful for developing countries to enable them to actively participate in the production of marketable information products and eventually earn a share of the information market. N. Dusoulier explained that cooperation is not always cost-effective and enumerated some of the current difficulties. It is necessary to agree on the standards to use; one must write interfaces; input is often slow; and consistency has to be checked. Most database producers concentrate on core journals because of the high costs of processing and maintaining databases, as mentioned earlier a fact that reduces the need for cooperation. As to the share in the market, she added that it is difficult to find a simple way of sharing revenues on real input; the statistics on what is actually used in databases are not well known.
Continuing the subject, M. Dierkes asked two questions: Why is the establishment of databases on a regional basis so weak, and how should decisions on the fields in which to establish databases subsidized by public funds be reached? On the first question, N. Dusoulier thought that perhaps there was no clear incentive given by governments nor were there regional policies on the matter. However, she believed that in Europe, sharing the production of databases will be reached in a few years' time. Responding to the second question, she expressed the belief that the needs and requirements of users should be the driving force for making decisions.
Next, D. Lide focused on the issue of overlap in coverage of different databases. Is the overlap too high, in the sense that it increases total costs, or too low, in the sense that literature on the boundary between two disciplines is not adequately covered? In her reply, N. Dusoulier confirmed that in bibliographic databases the overlap is certainly high on core journals. On the other hand, on fringe fields, "we still have to evaluate the missing information." As to numeric and factual databases, she did not believe that there was a significant overlap.
The discussion then moved on to communication networks. G. Johannsen wondered what will remain of T. Kamae's concepts for the twenty-first century in view of the depression faced by most industrialized countries and assuming that "we need to share with the former East bloc and with the South." He wanted to know which were T. Kamae's priorities. The latter agreed that in the long term, depression was inevitable and consequently the project could be delayed. However, if the project is important to society, the greatest effort should be made to bring it into reality. Without any doubt, he said, regarding the question of priorities, the first choice for ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) implementation will be the business sector.
F. Thompson took the floor to ask when the large reduction in user costs would be realized, recognizing that initial conversion costs to fibres were very high. T. Kamae thought that it depended on what applications would be moved to broad-band ISDN. "If all television is moved to the telephone" he said, "this will happen much sooner." He recognized, however, that this move currently encountered many legal problems.
M. Takahashi then wanted to know what kind of research was being done to clarify the needs of those who would use the new technology in the twenty-first century? The paper's author explained that at present, only engineers were working on the development of ATM-relevant technologies. "We are planning to build a prototype ATM system," he said, "to demonstrate what can be done using available technologies first." On the basis of a common knowledge of the state of the art, specialists from different fields, such as the humanities and the social sciences, will presumably be able to have fruitful discussions on the social impact of new telecommunications technologies.
With reference to the overheads shown by T. Kamae, A. Sage wanted to know what specific interpretation was associated with the term "intelligent networks." T. Kamae explained that the term had roughly two meanings. The first referred to the type developed in the United States. The second, a broader sense, referred to a general network that has some kinds of intelligence, such as a language-translation capability.