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Winter 2004
Cyber Vision
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Illustration of robotic figuresAll this intimate and pervasive interaction with our surroundings will eventually create a world of mass customization. Already, young consumers tend to love their mobile phones more than their newspapers (and their video games more than television), so the day isn’t far off when businesses, armed with a storehouse of information on consumer preferences, will target customers directly in real-time, in homes, offices and shopping malls. Imagine a morning, for example, when you’re stepping into the shower and your local bakery calls to tell you that your favorite French rolls, hot out of the oven, can be at your door within minutes.

As with any other technology, it’s impossible to predict how the Internet will actually serve consumers in the future, given that e-mail, instant messaging and the World Wide Web were themselves complete surprises. Which is why, as Kleinrock concedes, “it’s much easier to predict infrastructure.” Many such predictions are based on the almost surreal ability of computers to do more and more computing in ever-smaller spaces over increasing bandwidths, using ever-lower power, thereby validating Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s 1965 prediction, known as Moore’s Law, that the computer power available on a single chip doubles every 18 to 24 months.

So if the core of the Internet is rife with increased capacity, where do the big challenges lie? At the network’s edges, says Vinton Cerf M.S. ’70, Ph.D. ’72, one of the Internet’s pioneering architects who is senior vice president of technology strategy for the telecommunications giant MCI. At a time when cable companies and their fiber-optics rivals are vying to control the flow of information to U.S. households, the hottest tech issue is broadband. In some parts of the world, such as South Korea and Japan, “where homes are essentially high-density dwellings, there is an increase in broadband access because it’s easier to outfit an apartment building with high-speed fiber than it is to string fiber to separate family homes,” says Cerf. In contrast, because the United States has relatively more individual family homes, delivering wireless broadband connection is a daunting exercise.


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