Subj: [Dreamkeeper] Fwd:
Brave new world
Date: 2/21/2004 10:14:53 PM Eastern Standard Time
Brave new world
By David Stonehouse
February 21, 2004
Internet founding father Leonard Kleinrock possesses a distinctly
Star Trekian-view of the network's future: lurking silently everywhere,
ready to respond instantly to spoken orders and even taking holographic
"Right now, cyberspace lives behind a screen in your computer.
I want it to come out in the physical world," he says from
his office at the University of California, Los Angeles.
And what a world it would be: always connected, instantly available
and ever-present. Its tentacles would reach out to sensors monitoring
everything from the room we are in to the conditions in the atmosphere
to the state of gridlock on the highways.
The omnipresent internet, much like the Starship Enterprise,
would trigger actuators to open doors for you, fire on the lights
and switch on displays embedded in the walls. It would speak
and understand when spoken to, able to identify who you are and
retrieve all your files in an instant, even if your office is
halfway around the world.
Furthermore, the internet would not just be the lifeblood of
these "smart spaces" - it will be crowded inconspicuously
into our own personal space.
"It will be on my belt, in my fingernails, on my desk, in
my shoes, in my eyeglasses, in the world that I enter,"
says Kleinrock, who laid the groundwork for the internet in the
1960s by outlining the principles of packet switching that underpin
He expects the first aspects of this futuristic vision to unfold
within the next decade. And if all of this sounds a little too
sci-fi, consider that virtually all of the technology to make
it happen either exists or is under refinement.
The internet of the future will bear little resemblance to the
one we now use. It will no longer just be something we use to
send email, chat, look up information or buy a book. It will
be much faster. Video will be a standard feature, not a drain
on bandwidth. The net will empower once-ordinary devices with
intelligence and be able to make some intelligent choices of
its own. It will always be on and we'll be able to use it just
about anywhere, using just about anything.
Smart sensors connected to the internet will allow us to keep
tabs on everything from our homes to the world around us. As
more of the world becomes interconnected, a future form of the
internet will stitch everything together.
The internet we know today was designed as a communication tool
for scientists and academics, not for global reach and certainly
not for connecting virtually every device around us.
Accordingly, Princeton University scientist and Intel researcher
Larry Peterson complained in June last year: "It has become
impossible to go to the core of the internet and make radical
changes to introduce the kind of new services we see people wanting
to deploy." He was speaking at the public launch of PlanetLab,
a project that seeks to overhaul the internet and which involves
a consortium of more than 60 institutions around the world.
The PlanetLab network is designed to allow researchers to develop
and test powerful new types of software running on many computers
at once, treating the network as one large, widely distributed
The ambitious effort aims to essentially create another layer
to the existing internet. Researchers are experimenting with
"smart nodes" - computers linked to traditional data
routers on the network, which can divide tasks and communicate
with one another. They hope to install 1000 such nodes worldwide
PlanetLab, once fully developed, could yield such benefits as
faster downloads and more powerful search engines. Someone watching
an online video, for example, might receive it from many computers
that work together to avoid congested parts of the internet.
Software scanning the internet for malicious behaviour could
catch problems before they could be detected by a single computer.
Also, in just a few years PlanetLab plans to introduce an internet
that is resistant to viruses and worms, features vast amounts
of archival space and allows you to call up your personal details
on whatever computer you use wherever in the world you are.
These increased computing power and networking capabilities,
some say, will ultimately trickle down to the consumer level,
supporting the proliferation of internet-enabled appliances and
gadgets in our homes.
Already, the future-gazers at companies such as IBM, Microsoft,
Sears Sunbeam, Westinghouse and Bell Canada have joined forces
in an organisation called the Internet Home Alliance, which is
dedicated to networking your refrigerator, stove and other appliances
so that the internet can become a backbone of domestic life.
So far, early efforts at net-connected appliances have been a
hard sell - too cutting-edge, luxury objects for wealthy technology
aficionados. Yes, internet-ready refrigerators on the market
allow you to surf, send emails, take photos and shoot small video
- even manage grocery lists. For example, LG has already begun
selling an internet-enabled fridge in Australia. Theoretically,
they will some day be capable of sending messages to the corner
store when you run out of milk.
A sceptical response comes from Sean Carton, author of seven
books about the internet, including The Dot.Bomb Survival Guide.
Carton says he'd never want his refrigerator to shop for his
"We have all been going to the market to buy our food for
thousands of years now and I think it is going to be a long time
before people are ready to trust technology to take care of all
that stuff for them," he says.
"What is much more likely is it will dial up the manufacturer
and say, 'I have a problem - send a service technician over to
fix me'. I think that seems to be a little bit more useful."
Still, proponents such as Derek Kuhn envision the internet coursing
through our homes just as hydro-electric power does today. "It'll
just become a utility, like electricity that flows into your
house," he says.
Kuhn, chairman of the tech industry group Broadband Content Delivery
Forum, says the potential for internet everywhere in the home
is limitless - if a little hazy at the moment.
"Everybody has different kinds of niche interests and ideas.
I don't think anybody knows how this is going to go yet. We always
hear 'What is the killer application?' I don't think there is
one," says Kuhn.
He talks about a microwave he spotted at the Consumer Electronics
Show in early 2003 - wave the barcode of your frozen dinner in
front of it and it sends the information over your home internet
connection to find the perfect cooking times.
"Three minutes later, your pizza pockets are done - and
not overdone or underdone," he says. "Now, you don't
have to worry about whether you have a 700 - or a 1000-watt microwave
- it knew all that stuff for you."
Kuhn is an avid reality TV fan. He envisions being able to watch
Survivor while voting in real time for who is next to get the
boot - thanks to a television connected to the internet. Foxtel
is already planning such interactive features as part of its
soon-to-be released digital TV services.
Super-high-speed internet access will soon be the norm as telecommunications
companies bring fibre-optic cable into the home.
"Once you have glass into your house, there is absolutely
no limit as to what the speed can be to your home. None,"
he says. "The technology exists today to have absolutely
mind-blowing amounts of data on a single fibre-optic connection."
If consumer appliances with net connectivity still seem like
a frill, then what could be really handy - and perhaps more of
a public good - is the notion of a connected car, one that sends
wireless messages to your local garage when its sensors detect
any signs of trouble. At the garage, technicians can send a message
back if you need to bring it in for a service. Connected cars
in motion would form a network that could inform users about
traffic flow, weather conditions and other topics.
In the always-connected future, small sensors will be everywhere,
feeding the internet with information. Already, intelligent wireless
sensors are at work in California monitoring conditions at the
Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino - communicating with
each other to ensure the correct moisture levels for its collection
of rare plants. Others monitor the effects seismic waves have
had on buildings in the Los Angeles area.
David Tennenhouse, director of research at Intel Research, imagines
a day when high-tech "fingers" like this are everywhere
around the globe, feeling for data.
Imagine calling up a search engine and asking for the weather
conditions at the cottage and the network responding by fetching
real-time conditions from sensors at your land by the lake.
"We need new sensors and actuators, new ways of connecting
our computers to the physical world," Tennenhouse told a
conference late last year on emerging technologies at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology.
"Information technology has barely scratched the surface
of where it can be used."
Jupiter Research's Michael Gartenberg would agree - he believes
the internet will be so pervasive within the next two decades
that it will strain the limits of imagination.
But Gartenberg, director of research for the emerging technologies
market research firm, isn't so sure that people will want rooms
talking to them as they enter. Instead, he envisions people wearing
wristwatches encoded with their personal data and preferences
"so when they go into a room the device signals that you
are here and it then adjusts the lighting, the temperature and
displays relevant information that is important to you".
"But," he says, "that won't just be limited to
your home. That will follow you when you get into your car. That
will follow you when you go to the airport."
At the airport, the displays showing arrivals and departures
will disclose only the information that you want.
Just about any device could connect you to the internet's resources,
"We'll see screens that can do things like fold up in your
pocket. When you need a 12-inch screen, you will be able to unwrap
it," he says.
"Likewise, we will see digital books that look and feel
like real paper but will be consistently connected and the concepts
will change on that paper. Because it will be digitally encoded,
it will carry around a library worth of books - but in one book."
The world around us will seem familiar, he says. But at the same
time, it will be radically different.
There could even be sensors inside your body to help monitor
Larry Smarr, founding director of the California Institute for
Telecommunications and Information Technology and a champion
of the wireless sensor-concept for keeping tabs on the world,
doesn't see why not.
"A new car has probably 30 or 40 microprocessors and sensors
inside it," Smarr told a journalist in early 2001. "Why
is it that you think it's more appropriate to take better care
of your own car than your own body?"
Talk like that sets off alarm bells among people concerned about
privacy. But in a world where the internet is increasingly pervasive,
would there be any such thing as privacy?
Kleinrock says we may as well forget about it.
"If you ask me, the privacy issue is over," he says.
"We have lost it. It is almost impossible to retrieve, unless
you want to retreat from the technology world that we live in
today. Give up your credit cards, your cell phones, have no GPS
device on you."
But given the choice between privacy and the conveniences of
technology, he suspects most people would opt for convenience.
All sound just a little too far-fetched? Well, the future is
already nipping at our heels. In January, Intel began touting
WiMax - super fast wireless net access that will bring mega-broadband
speed into homes without the expense and bother of fibre. Handy,
too, for the wireless televisions, video players and other gadgets
that emerged at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
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