Times Article 007
Communicating in the Year 2025
going to give you a "gee-whiz" look at how we may be
communicating in the year 2005. 2005:
Now doesn't that sound like something out of a science fiction novel?
Even when it's less than seven years away?
you lived in the 1700s, could you have fathomed the concept of
television? Or in the
1800s, could you have conceived of space shuttles or the Mars Rover?
As recently as 1994, did you think that a network originally
used by nuclear scientists to transfer scientific data would soon be
pumping entertainment and educational content into TV sets viewed by
10-year-olds in living rooms?
what will communications look like in 2005?
It's almost impossible to guess eight years in the future, so
let me share some insights based on a fascinating evening I spent
recently with a husband-wife team who work at Bell Labs and Sandia
National Lab, respectively. This
high-powered team based their predictions on three "vectors of
change" - time, light, and air.
a bit ironic that time is constantly attacked by the very information
age that we hope will be our salvation.
Today, and in the future, fire-hoses of data bits and bytes,
electronic Web pages, FAXes, e-mails, and other content of all shapes
and sizes compete for our precious seconds of attention.
Communications will evolve to address this chaos by providing
us with the ability to tailor how you communicate with others.
Networks will gather, manage, and organize information to be
more accessible and useful to you than ever before through
personalized virtual "avatars" that represent your specific
electronic persona will filter, tune, adjudicate, and otherwise
control the increasing flow of information that will allow you to
really benefit from - and not be overrun by - information.
Your customer calls and needs to speak with you. Your business avatar has authenticated the caller by voice
recognition, and has asked the customer about his request using
natural language algorithms. Accessing
company data files, the avatar realizes that this customer's volume of
business is under the threshold you've established for immediate
contact, and queries the caller on the relative importance of his call
and specific time requirements. Based
on previous interactions with this customer and your instructional
parameters, your avatar decides that you need to be advised that this
customer needs a call-back within one hour.
Global Positioning System (GPS) button informs your avatar that you
are in a meeting room. Recognizing
that the members of the corporate board are also in that room, your
avatar, based on past experience, sends you a text page via wireless
e-mail, that appears on the screen of your wearable computer.
Finally, the avatar informs the caller that you will return his
call within an hour.
second vector is light, or to be more precise, optical networking.
This technology is the key to providing flexible and much wider
bandwidth to manage the geometric increase in Internet and other
network traffic. Just as the nation's automobile traffic increased as the
interstate freeway system made road travel faster and safer, the
faster and simpler we make networks, the more traffic we'll see on
the highway analogy, today's technologies, which use a single freeway
lane, have gained capacity by designing trucks that can go faster.
But of course, you have to replace your entire fleet of slower
trucks to use the faster ones. In
contrast, optical networking uses multiple freeway lanes, some with
older slower trucks, and some with newer faster vehicles.
There is no need to manage costly protocol conversions (faster
trucks) for most tasks.
amplifiers make it possible to boost lightwave signals, thereby
extending the reach of a light pulse without first converting it to
electrical signals and then back into light. Intercity trunks and long-haul routes will move to optical
networks mostly because the physics and economics give much better
cost efficiencies, regardless of technology.
These cost savings to companies and individuals who must
communicate will keep more and more network traffic in the optical
domain as long as possible, eventually all the way into your house.
the past 10 years, the silicon-based microcomputer improvement rate
has been 60-fold. But over the same 10-year period, the improvement rate for
optics has been over 100-fold. This
means that by the year 2005, "Photon Valley" will quite
likely surpass "Silicon Valley" in bringing the Information
Age into our homes by bigger optical data "pipes."
third vector - air - may provide the most visible improvement in our
daily lives. In 2005,
communicating computers will often be worn, as they will be embedded
in our eyeglasses, our clothing, and in many other places.
As the millennium approaches, multimedia functions (speech and
video) will sit on a single chip, and wireless terminals are already
getting smaller and smaller. Networks
in 2005 will be flexible and robust enough to be used for mobile, as
well as fixed, communications.
many cases, data routing and distribution will occur over the air.
Terrestrial wireless links will be tethered to optical
"tails," which is the equivalent of optical fiber to the
antenna that you're wearing. When
required, data routing and distribution will remain in the optical
domain, but networks of the future will represent the interests of
their subscribers. Not
only will your computer always be on and available for any task, the
processor chip in your wearable computer will be 10 times as powerful
as today's Pentium II, with real-time HDTV and surround-sound audio,
and connections into the Internet, digital telephone system, and
video-on-demand (VOD) television.
a result of these three factors, integrated multisensory
communications networks will promote virtual reality in our everyday
life. Network-enabled VR
will have a huge impact on society.
As an example, let's take a quick look at the 1990s task of
catalog shopping, and how you'll do the same task in 2005.
Relaxing at home, idly flipping through one of the dozens of catalogs
that arrived in today's mail, you spot a pair of hiking shoes you
like. Using your
voice-activated phone-dialer, you dial the catalog company's toll-free
number. Along with the
signal from your call, the network transmits data to the catalog
company so that when the service rep answers the phone, her computer
screen indicates that you're a previous customer, and so the rep
greets you by name. You
tell her what you want, and she asks you if you want them in the same
size you ordered last time, and whether you want the shoes shipped to
the same address.
Sitting on your lanai, you decide it's time to replace those hiking
shoes. Rather than
looking through catalogs, or even launching an Internet search, you
decide to "visit" the catalog company.
Talking through your eyeglass-mounted computer's microphone,
and viewing a computer-digitized image of yourself generated by a
broadcast-quality camera, you "walk" into the store.
bi-directional communications network means that you are
"there," and your visual avatar "tries on" the
hiking shoes, and you judge the fit.
Deciding that you need a slightly different tread on the soles,
you "pick up" a new tread from the store's rack, and
"see" that it will do the job.
You then order the shoes with the new tread, assured that a
perfectly-sized pair of hiking shoes will arrive at your doorstep within
a few days.
vision of the future is not altogether fiction.
Applications that offer this type of experience exist today, but
unlike today's sketchy computer-generated virtual worlds, tomorrow's
technology will be life-like, with haptic (touch) feedback, and probably
even with synthesized odors. The concept of VR "immersion" will be a standard,
rather than today's thrown-together partial solutions.
me close with a quotation from William Gibson, the science fiction
author who created the term Cyberspace: "Anyone who thinks
science fiction is about the future is naive. Science fiction doesn't predict the future; it determines it,
colonizes it, and preprograms it in the image of the future."
And one from Arthur C. Clarke, the inventor of the geosynchronous
satellite: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is
indistinguishable from magic."