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Here Comes The Cyber Judge

Bits & Bytes


YOU'VE SEEN IT BEFORE: Someone posts a defamatory comment on an online service. Or an article or other form of intellectual property is illegally copied on the Net. It's all too common. What's a cyber victim to do? Since such disputes began to arise in online communities, they have generally been handled by "sysops," the people whose job it is to maintain order on online services such as CompuServe or America Online. However, on the free-form Web, there has been little recourse aside from lengthy court proceedings.

Starting this month, there's a judicial process designed for online disputes--whether on the Net or commercial services. The online arbitration system, called the Virtual Magistrate Project, was created by the National Center for Automated Information Research, a technology think tank, Villanova University, and the American Arbitration Assn. Complaints can be registered via E-mail ( or at the project's Web site ( 8080).

Both parties to a dispute must agree to abide by the decision reached by a Virtual Magistrate arbitrator, usually within three days. Think of it as George Jetson meets Judge Wapner.

"We hope to keep cases out of court," says Robert Gellman, the executive director of the Virtual Magistrate Project.EDITED BY AMY CORTESEReturn to top


THE PROBLEM: HOW TO LET dozens or even thousands of people across the country all play at once in a simulated Civil War battle, aerial dogfight, castle invasion or other large-scale computer game.

With each person's PC running its own copy of the game, the technical challenge is to keep all the programs synchronized as individual players, for example, blast away with their BFG-9000s (the most awesome of weapons in the game Doom) or crash their Spitfire fighter planes. The Internet is generally too slow for the job, and a network designed just for gaming would cost an arm and a leg merely to blow some poor sucker in Dayton to smithereens.

By spring, startup MPath Interactive Inc. plans to bring large-scale, long-distance gaming to the Net. MPath has developed a Net-based communications service that overcomes the Net's excessive transmission delays--called latency--and connects groups of gamers in near-real time.

The service involves a new communications protocol designed just to broadcast quick updates between all players and a central server computer. The setup will also facilitate live voice links, so team members can collaborate with each other or shout: "Take that, cyber scum!" as they blast their enemies to kingdom come. MPath is signing up gamemakers to build the protocol into their games.EDITED BY AMY CORTESEReturn to top


IF YOU'RE AN ADULT WITH kids, chances are you've seen one or two Muppet movies, and--admit it--you probably laughed right along with your kids. Well, the whole Muppet gang is ready to tackle a new screen: your PC.

The $49.95 Muppet CD-ROM: Muppets Inside is created by Jim Henson Productions and Starwave Corp., Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen's multimedia company. Its two hours of digital video and audio clips add up to a very different kind of interactive entertainment. The program begins with the Muppet crew putting the finishing touches on its new CD-ROM. But just as the disk is loading into your Windows 95 PC, it "crashes," trapping Muppet characters and pieces of the disk inside your PC.

To rescue the amiable Muppets and recreate the CD-ROM, you travel with Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear to the farthest reaches of your personal computer, shown on the "bit map," using the PC's "data bus."

Designed for kids "ages 99 and under," the program contains lots of material for grown-ups. In one game, Kitchen of Doom, you help the Swedish Chef battle mutant food monsters with wire whisks and other kitchen aids--a satire of the popular game, Doom.EDITED BY AMY CORTESEReturn to top

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