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Internet

Call it info-highway robbery

Surfers could have had faster and easier access to get on the Net, but someone stole it.

    You could have had a easier and speedier way to get on the Internet. But someone stole it.

    Researchers in New York report that thieves stole diagrams, schematics, and specifications for a technology that would allow novices to access the Internet from their televisions. The company estimated the value of the stolen material at $250 million.

    Interactive Television Technologies (I-TT) reports that a group of thieves, likely in an act of industrial espionage, broke into their labs last Tuesday and stole items relating to plans for a project called Butler.

    Butler is a set-top box which would allow people to access the Web, send and receive email, and engage in two-way chat sessions using existing satellite or cable connections to their television sets. I-TT says that the Butler system would enable anyone who can use a TV to surf the Internet without the hours of training usually needed to become familiar with computers.

    J. Balam Chirayath, president of I-TT, says the company was ready to demonstrate the product for a conference in Scotland, but now a demo unit is three to six weeks away. "For us, this is really upstaging what we had in mind in terms of timing...If somebody sees what we got, they don't really have to study it. Just seeing it might trigger the idea for them," he says.

    The company's research is unique, according to Chirayath, because they have added artificial intelligence functions to their product that will result in a six-fold increase in information access and retrieval no matter what size "pipeline" a person is using, including standard phone lines, ISDN, or cable.

    The technology is the result of four years of research conducted by American and Chinese scientists working at the company's Amherst labs. Chirayath says the researchers will now reconstruct their research using backup data and will apply for patents ahead of schedule so that the burglars can't benefit from their illegal venture.