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Googlearchy or Googlocracy?

Conventional wisdom says that search engines make big websites even more prominent. New research, though, says "not so fast" on jumping to that conclusion.

7 min read

Search engines are our key to access information on the Web. Without search engines, we would easily become lost in cyberspace (as in the early days of the Web), so it is not surprising to see how heavily we rely on search engines as our information gateways. According to the Search Engine Round Table blog, Jay McCarthy, vice president of Web server log analysis company Websidestory, announced at the 2005 Search Engine Strategies Conference in Toronto that the number of page referrals from search engines has surpassed those from other pages. This means that people navigate the Web by searching more than by browsing.

The question of search engine bias then becomes a crucial one. What if search engines showed only certain types of information, or preferred certain sources? Imagine for example submitting the query abortion and finding only pro-life (or only pro-choice) sites in the first screen of hits. There are many kinds of potential bias--linguistic, political, cultural, commercial, and so on. The issue of bias resonates in the public debate on our growing dependence on search engines and on their social impact as gatekeepers of information. Is an information monopoly developing the same way as the software monopoly of the recent past? Is Google the next Microsoft? If search engines are the lens through which we see the world, transparency is a major concern, and any bias gets in the way. Our worries are heightened because search engines are secretive about their algorithms and, thus, their biases are subtle to detect.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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