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Media Contact: Denine Hagen
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September 9, 1998

The Internet Will Take On New Active Role With Next-Generation Web Planned By UC San Diego Researchers

Armed with a vision for the next generation of the Internet, computer scientists with the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) have been awarded more than $2 million to develop a version of the World Wide Web based on new ideas of user interactivity.

The Computer Science and Engineering Department (CSE) at the Jacobs School is developing the Active Web, a new Internet that is not only more rich in graphics and multimedia than the Net we know today, but much more powerful in its ability to work independently, dynamically and intelligently.

The CSE Department will develop the Active Web through a $1.5 million award from the National Science Foundation's prestigious Research Infrastructure Program. Additionally, UC San Diego will provide approximately $600,000 to the project.

"Today the Web is mostly passive and reactive," said Joseph Pasquale, the J. Robert Beyster Chair in Engineering at the Jacobs School and one of the project's principal investigators. "The Active Web, as the name implies, is pro-active. Things happen, not just in response to something you do, but also, in expectation of what you want."

The Active Web will be a significant departure from the structure of today's Internet, in

which the computer user seeks out information - on a Web page, for example - downloads the Web page and processes, manipulates or stores it on his own machine. The Active Web will work by having users send out specific requests to Web pages to gather information, manipulate the data there, at the host's site, and then bring back only the most pertinent information to the user's home machine. The key is that the work will be done remotely, distant from the user's machine.

One of the fundamental concepts of the Active Web system is the idea of electronic "agents" that go out and do the work for you. Let's say you want to sit down each morning and find the latest information from the Net in your specific tastes of news, hobbies and professional articles. Before you ever sit down, your agents will go out and get this information for you and bring it back. Moreover, these "smart" agents will be able to refine their skills to adaptively learn to only bring back what's important.

Pasquale and a CSE Department team that includes Rik Belew, Jeanne Ferrante, Russell Impagliazzo and Venkat Rangan will create the Active Web over a five-year program, which begins this month.

  • The first year will be focused on developing a foundation for a small version of the Active Web at UC San Diego by connecting computer science laboratories. Funds from the award will support a state-of-the-art network with large computer servers, cutting-edge multimedia computers and extremely fast multi-processors that will form the backbone of the prototypical Active Web. Thus, the researchers will be able to develop the system under an interconnected network capable of gigabit-per-second speed. "We'll have a mini-web, basically, that we will be able to control completely," said Jeanne Ferrante, chair of the CSE Department. "Rather than each of us working alone, we're pulling together the research and the expertise of the entire department into this single, focused vision of the Active Web."
  • In the second year the project will address issues of security. Since agents will routinely move out onto the web and pull information from foreign computers, the Active Web will feature tools for verifying authenticity and protecting privacy.

"If I send my agent somewhere, I don't want somebody to be able to look inside it and take away the valuables or try to understand what it is doing on my behalf," said Pasquale. "So security is just as important as developing the underlying systems of the Active Web."

  • The final three years will be spent building programs and content within the Active Web system. New methods for transmitting multimedia files and communicating video, audio, pictures and text will be analyzed. Tools for using scientific "metacomputing," in which researchers perform enormous data calculations and complex scientific computations, also will be developed.


Another area of focus is content-based search mechanisms, which involve finding new ways to search for patterns in databases at different locations. And, finally, the program will develop new methods for computer and software engineering, including analyzing and simulating systems and programs.

Active Web developers have made ease of upgrading to the new system a priority. Rather than having to start over from scratch, they envision a relatively simple transgression to the Active Web.

"Ease of deployment is one of our most important goals," said Pasquale. "We're not coming out with some radical design that the whole world has to change to before it can ever be used. It has to be something that can easily be integrated to the web as it exists today."

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