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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The Internet: What the Economist Gets and Doesn't Get

An interesting piece from the economist, which apart from the occasional gaff, at least applies itself to thinking positively about impending changes. The gaffs? Well try "over the next few decades, the internet and related technologies really will profoundly transform society": the dimension relating to the pace of change is way of beam, I think were talking about THIS decade here. In fact a strong case could be made that many of the changes are already well under way, as usual we're just not noticing and identifying them enough. I have the feeling that my life changes in some small but important way at least once every three months. Despite the frustrations there are pluses, like the comment from Victor Zue, director of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, who expects high-speed access to the internet to be virtually free in rich countries within five years. Free broadband in five years does sound pretty revolutionary, as does the comment about "tiny tracking chips called radio-frequency identification devices being used as pet passports. Soon they will be small, powerful and cheap enough to be implanted into everything from humans to milk cartons, recording and transmitting real-time medical data or serving as a form of inventory control". Now soon-available cheap implants to allow direct communication with my computer hard drive, that would be something. Still, the Economist's wish to be on the side of the good and just without offending anyone leaves it all too often with a mixture of sound analysis and unconvincing conclusions.

Far from being over, the computer and telecoms revolution that created the internet has barely begun. These technologies will change almost every aspect of our lives—private, social, cultural, economic and political. In some areas, the changes may be marginal, but in most they will be profound, and unprecedented.

This is because new electronic technologies deal with the very essence of human society: communication between people. Earlier technologies, from printing to the telegraph, have done likewise, and have wrought big changes over time. But the social changes over the coming decades are likely to be much more extensive, and to happen much faster, than any in the past, because the technologies driving them are continuing to develop at a breakneck pace. More importantly, they look as if together they will be as pervasive and ubiquitous as electricity. Whether this will be for good or ill is impossible to predict, because how they are applied will be a matter of social and political choice. Many of these choices will be difficult and divisive.

The reason to think that the internet revolution will not only resume but accelerate is that advances in its underlying technologies show no signs of slowing down. The power of computer chips continues to race ahead. Moore's law—according to which the power of a computer chip will double about every 18 months (see chart 1)—has proved to be true since 1965, when it was first propounded by Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, a chip maker. Intel is confident that it will be able to maintain this pace of improvement in silicon for another 15 years. Recent breakthroughs by researchers at IBM and Hewlett Packard in molecular electronics lead many experts to believe that Moore's law will continue to apply for perhaps another 50 years. Similarly dramatic advances in storage and transmission technologies are also in prospect.
Source: The Economist

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