Creating A Better, Brighter, Smarter Internet - Page 5

In a report on kids on the Internet, Jupiter identified five critical factors that define the online experience for this tween and teen age group: communications such as chat, e-mail, greeting cards and instant messaging; online ubiquity arising from a growing array of devices and services; multitasking - the tendency to surf the Web and send e-mail while watching TV; rich media such as online games, music and video; and user interface and navigation ease of use.

Those critical factors are similar to the Internet of the future envisioned by giants in the industry who are already paving the way for another new economy.

Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy once declared that the Web we refer to is actually six Webs. According to Hellmuth Broda, Suns chief technologist for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the six could evolve in the following patterns: The Traditional Web or Near Web will improve with better computers, keyboards, screens, cables, phone lines, modems and local area networks. Eventually, you wont have to install software or devices to see or hear content.

The Entertainment Web or Far Web will link devices with ambient intelligence, eliminating the need for CDs, DVDs and videotapes. Instead, consumers will buy a license key for the content they purchase and software systems will let people get access to their music from home, hotel room, rental car or airplane seat. The content would be available on a wristwatch, PDA or cellular device. The system could even make the light in your TV room turn green for a horror movie, or rose for a romance, an effect that can be accomplished as the Web-based entertainment service allows your home entertainment system to automatically detect whats going on.

The Pervasive-Computing Web or Device Web will link machines talking to machines, using Java-based applications. Wired or wireless, the devices will be able to communicate on either a centralized-service basis or peer-to-peer basis. Sensors will move to the forefront of input devices as useful intelligence becomes available to IT systems as well as to the Web. Suns Broda suggested some interesting possibilities, such as T-shirts that measure pulse rates and glucose values, then transmit them via the network to physicians. The Internet-accessed networked home is already a reality.

The E-Commerce Web will handle business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions. It also involves heavy traffic between machines.

The Pocket Communicator Web or the Here Web follows you via pocket communicator. As the services increase in sophistication, you can use pocket communicators to locate restaurants or look up cultural activities, and keep tabs on the latest information about your next flight or other travel arrangements.

The Voice-Activated Web would be accessible through a device worn on your lapel into which you could talk. Your voice would securely identify you and enable immediate access to information and services. These services will know about your preferences and options and will help you easily navigate.

As executives at Sun explained, the Internet will have arrived when you no longer notice it. For example, when you turn on the lights in a room, you simply think: "Turn on lights," not "Activate the switch to release electrical current to the lamp."

Despite short-term setbacks in the economy, Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy points to what he terms the "Net Effect" as a powerful force in technological and economic progress. The Net Effect is a product of the rapid growth in processor speed, bandwidth capacity and the value of networks.

Lucent Technologies Bell Labs, meanwhile, is exploring the outer limits of bandwidth, recently calculating that it is theoretically possible to send about 100 terabits of information - or roughly 20 billion one-page e-mails - simultaneously on each strand of fiber.

"The research suggests that as demand for services such as high-speed Internet access continues to grow, and bandwidth-hungry applications such as video-on-demand become increasingly popular, optical fiber will be able to keep up. It will even be able to provide services not yet imagined," Bell Labs officials explained.

For todays tweens and teens, the growth of bandwidth will have implications as great as the growth in wireless services, Bolts Pelson said. Meanwhile, portability will increase as the clunky monitors on kids desks give way to versatile new devices.

At IBM, for instance, researchers have created a thin, flexible transistor that could someday be used to create a computer screen that can be rolled up, possibly even worn. At Bell Labs, researchers are working on a flexible plastic sheet that could replace the familiar liquid crystal displays common in calculators and other devices.

Engineers at Microsoft Research are considering the possibilities of MEMS - microelectromechanical systems - machines so small they cant be seen with the naked eye. Costing only a few cents each, they would be tiled together to form vast, high-resolution video displays as thin as wallpaper or implanted into the human body to analyze illnesses and dispense medicines.

Last month Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates vowed to keep research funding high as the company pursues the new frontiers of interactivity.

"Regardless of the current economic climate, we remain convinced that computer industry and government research organizations must continue to invest for the long term," Gates told researchers in Redmond, on the 10th anniversary of Microsoft Research. "Without basic research, we cannot create the technology foundations for future generations to build on."

For Microsoft and Gates, the Internet of the future will allow users to analyze information on "a universal canvas" with devices that respond to touch and voice instead of traditional typing. Among the goals at Microsoft Research are designing computers that are better able to understand their users and tasks; developing vision technology that will allow tracking and 3D scene reconstruction; and endowing devices with "telepresence" that will enable users to feel as if they are present at a faraway event.

Just as baby boomers reaped the rewards of Cold War brainstorms that evolved into the Internet, todays kids could enjoy the benefits of subrosa research into quantum computers and networks that may establish not only a new economy, but a new reality.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technologys celebrated Media Laboratory in Cambridge, researchers are exploring the meaning of identity in the age of the Internet, developing virtual reality "tele-actors" that can interact with the world or represent a group or individual (picture a news anchor). They also seek to quantify and define human intelligence and common sense, traits that they hope to bestow on a robot. So far, researchers into artificial intelligence say they have only succeeded in replicating the intelligence of an insect.

But take a look at Media Labs sponsors - some of the most powerful companies in the world - and it becomes apparent that the researchers are not just testing out plot points for science-fiction novels.

"Humans are growing into machines, and machines are growing human," Media Lab researcher Alex Pentland observed. "The blending of human and machine is happening at all scales, most obviously as digital technology moves onto - and into - the human body, and as computers gain emotions and intelligence."