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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

In the Virtual Extension

John K. Estell and Ken Christensen

The use of computers is pervasive throughout our society. Given the ever-increasing reliance placed upon software, graduates from computing-related degree programs must be more aware than ever of their responsibilities toward ensuring that society is well served through their creative works. The authors propose a new organization establishing a rite-of-passage ceremony for students graduating in the computing sciences that is similar in nature and scope to the Ring Ceremony employed by the Order of the Engineer for students graduating from engineering programs. This new organization is solely intended to promote and recognize the ethical and moral behavior in graduates of computing-related degree programs as they transition to careers of service to society.

The proposal is not a call for accreditation, licensure, or certification at any level. It is also not a call for the formation of a new professional society such as ACM. The proposed new organization would not be a membership organization; there would be no meetings, no conferences, and no annual dues. Its sole purpose would be to facilitate and promote a rite-of-passage ceremony where students take a pledge to affirm and uphold the ethical tenets of the profession they are about to enter.

Two institutions—Ohio Northern University and the University of South Florida—have already experimented with this concept. The authors seek to start a larger conversation on this concept by soliciting input from the community on what they believe is a significant need for an organization that can benefit both graduates and the computing profession.

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Contributed article --- DOI: 10.1145/1897816.1897847
10 Scientific Problems in Virtual Reality

Qinping Zhao

Virtual reality was one of the 14 Grand Challenges identified as awaiting engineering solutions announced in 2008 by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. In this article, the authors explore 10 related open VR challenges, with hoped-for potential breakthroughs promising to advance VR techniques and applications.

VR today is being applied in multiple contexts, including training, exercise, engineering design, and entertainment, while also serving as a research tool in such fields as neuroscience and psychology, as explored in Michael Heim's pioneering 1993 book Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. More recently, scholars have described the Internet itself as representing a virtual world modeling its real-world counterpart. The relationship between VR and its application fields is, in terms of expression and validation, like the relationship between mathematics and physics, while VR is attracting attention from a growing number of governments and science/engineering communities. Along with the NAE Committee on Engineering 14 Grand Challenges, the Chinese government's 2006 report Development Plan Outline for Medium- and Long-Term Science and Technology Development (2006-2020) and the Japanese government's 2007 long-term strategic report Innovation 2025 both included VR as a priority technology worthy of development.

VR has also emerged as an important research area for many Chinese universities and research institutes. For example, Zhejiang University in Hangzhou and Tsinghua University in Beijing are known for realistic modeling and rendering; Peking University in Beijing focuses on computer vision and human-machine interaction; the Beijing Institute of Technology in Beijing emphasizes head-mounted displays; and the Institute of Computing Technology of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing has made significant progress in crowd simulation.

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Review article --- DOI: 10.1145/1897816.1897848
Are the OECD Guidelines at 30 Showing Their Age?

David Wright, Paul De Hert and Serge Gutwirth

Three decades have passed since the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) promulgated Guidelines on the Transborder Flows of Personal Data, and still the issue of transborder flows of data continues to plague policymakers, industry, and individuals who have no idea what happens to their data once it is transmitted beyond their national jurisdictions. This article briefly reviews what happened in the 1970s, the factors that led to production of the guidelines, and some of their key points. The authors highlight the success of the guidelines, but also the shortcomings, and what is happening now to bridge the gap. They ask the defining question: "Is an international binding convention or standard still needed?"

In the 1970s, the decade before the OECD Guidelines were promulgated, some countries had already begun to enact privacy laws applicable to the public and private sectors, including Germany, France, Sweden, and the U.S. In the seven-year stint between 1973 and 1980, one-third of the OECD's 30 member countries enacted legislation intended to protect individuals against abuse of data related to them and to give individuals the right of access to data with a view to checking their accuracy and appropriateness. Some countries were enacting statutes that dealt exclusively with computers and computer-supported activities. Other countries preferred a more general approach irrespective of the particular data processing technology involved. The OECD became concerned that these disparities in legislation might "create obstacles to the free flow of information between countries."

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