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What William Gibson said

Dr. Vint Cerf Issue: Global-ICT 2011
Article no.: 12
Topic: What William Gibson said
Author: Dr. Vint Cerf
Title: Internet Evangelist & VP
Organisation: Google
PDF size: 355KB

About author

Vinton G. Cerf is the Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google. Vint Cerf is the former senior vice president of Technology Strategy for MCI and the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet.
Vint Cerf holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Stanford University and Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from UCLA.


 

Article abstract

Technology is an increasingly important component of everyday life. The growth of the Internet and its seemingly endless applications gives credence to the desire to make these applications available virtually everywhere, in every country and locale. But there is always another side to the rapid proliferation of high technology. The challenge is to find ways to realize its potential while minimizing the risk.

 

Full Article

“The future is already here; it’s just not uniformly distributed.” I think we can accept at least to a substantial degree that Gibson was correct in this assessment. It is, of course, the non-uniformity that is of such great concern to the Broadband Commission. Nor is the concern limited solely to access to broadband communication (notably, but not exclusively, to the Internet). In addition to communications capacity, our attention is also drawn to massive computing capacity afforded by so-called ‘cloud computing’ services and also to massive storage capacity available not only ‘in the cloud’ but locally and even on your person. The idea that your mobile might have 16 GB of memory for photos, music, videos and other memorabilia would have sounded like science fiction a decade or two ago. A laptop with a terabyte of disk storage and 128 GB of flash memory is already reality. What we seek is ubiquitous and affordable access to these and other enabling technologies.

The growth of the Internet and its seemingly endless applications gives credence to the desire to make these applications available virtually everywhere, in every country and locale. While we are far from achieving this goal, we can take encouragement from the rapid uptake of mobiles nearly everywhere in the world. The numbers are approaching the population of the planet; of course, there are many users with more than one mobile, so one should not jump to the conclusion that the ubiquity objective is nearly met – there is still much to be done!

At the same time, these devices are providing increasingly high speed access to information services, notably through their access to the Internet. We can even see the possibility that mobiles will become portable Wi-Fi stations linking groups of devices into the Internet through broadband data services. This trend is all the more apparent as more Internet-enabled devices enter into the environment. The Smart Grid program in the United States and counterparts in other parts of the world highlight the need for more Internet address space in the form of the new Internet Protocol version 6 allowing for a theoretical 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses. These programs are focused on the development of technology and standards for the design of smarter devices that can react to peak electrical power requirements by reducing demand where possible. For example, delaying water heating, air conditioning or clothes laundering until the peak is past. Once these devices are in the environment, they, too, will form a kind of infrastructure or platform enabling the creation of yet newer and more innovative applications.


Forming the future

How do these components factor into the future to which Gibson alludes? For one thing, many of these networked devices will provide access to information that might otherwise never be accessible. We have already seen an avalanche of content pour into the World Wide Web since its introduction in 1991 driving the need for search engines to find things and a raft of applications, hundreds of thousands of which are accessible by way of mobile devices. It has been reported by Amazon that slightly more than 50 percent of its book sales are by way of its popular Kindle electronic readers . And how often has someone said to you “there’s an app for that” in response to your latest new idea for a new service?

What is also encouraging is the general trend towards reduced cost for equipment and communications to access this growing trove of online information and service. While it remains vital to spur investment in and implementation of core communications infrastructure, the utility of these services continues to be demonstrated daily.

There is another side to this rapid proliferation of high technology. We become quickly enamored and dependent upon it even for daily chores, social interaction, business dealings and political engagement among many other activities. When the core infrastructure or its edge components become compromised or unreliable, our dependence becomes a liability. Not only is it vital that the networking infrastructure be reliable (available whenever needed), but we also need to protect it and our devices from deliberate attack and from accidents and mistakes. This drives a clear interest in improving the technology we use to make it more resistant to these risks and to create international norms and frameworks that enable governments and private sector entities to work out processes and procedures for dealing with criminal activity, malfeasance, contractual disputes and other real-world matters that have counterparts in our new cyber-universe.

It is also clear that sustaining and growing this high-tech environment will require significant investment in education. A well-trained and adaptable work force is needed to maintain, expand and evolve these new infrastructures. The Internet has grown by a factor of over a million in every dimension since its release in 1983. Mobile telephone has grown by similar factors during an even briefer period. These factors are the result of rapid development of new technology and mechanisms and the work force has had to adapt to keep up. The same can be said for the general population and the business sector. These new technologies confer competitive advantages for those organizations versatile and inventive enough to adopt and use them.

It should be clear that the 21st Century has launched us on a remarkable new vector in which technology is an increasingly important component of everyday life. The great task before us is to find ways to realize the potential while minimizing the risk. It was ever thus, just in a new form.




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