Dojo (HowTo)







  Easter Eggs




  Martial Arts

Information is the future!

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

In my last article <Information is the Future> I explained the two future universes that would become one. One was the infinite storage model -- where hardware was near free, storage was near infinite, and we could carry anything we wanted with us. The other was the infinite network universe -- where bandwidth was near free, you didn't need local storage (since you could get everything from somewhere else), and anything you wanted access to could be tapped into. Well, the truth is that we will have both -- and we don't have to wait any longer! The future is now.

Some have credited me with some big "insight" or that the article was a "revelation". It wasn't -- and it wasn't really a predication of the future as much as it was just documenting and observing the present and the past, with some minor extrapolation for the future. What inspired me is what we can already do today, or have done in the past.

A leap forward into the past!

In1968 a researcher named Alan Kay, did a thesis and a cardboard mockup of a computer of the future -- this was called the DynaBook. The idea was a portable computer that could access information in many different ways (including wireless) and was far more powerful than most people could imagine at the time. 20 - 25 years later, when Alan Kay was working for Apple, they were making laptops that in many ways were rivaling his science fiction predictions of a generation before. In a few ways, they were going beyond it.

In the 60's Alan Kay didn't create his concepts from nowhere. In technology call this standing on the shoulders of giants (or our ancestors) -- though I believe Alan Kay had a quote saying that we were just, "standing on the toes of our peers". The point is that there are many papers and ideas floating around that had parts of what he was saying -- it was just that he was able to bring these ideas together in a compelling vision that inspired people to do what was going to be done anyway. He didn't really predict the future as much as he just clearly stated the obvious, and his vision was so clear and compelling that people raced to the goal (without realizing how far away they were). Before we new it, we were doing much of what he predicted -- at least partly because he predicted it.

In 1987 Apple had done a Knowledge Navigator video demo (which included hardware mockups) that expanded many of the concepts of the DynaBook into areas like voice recognition with "artifically intelligent" agents to help you find information or schedule things. A few years after that, Apple was creating pen-recognition based hand-held computers (Newtons), which could access wireless networks, and were attempts at bringing the DynaBook (plus more) into existance. The Newton as a product died due to many factors -- but the concepts live on. Those visions and future goals of the company, and coming closer to reality ever year. It is easy to predict that they will succeed and thrive in the future -- because they've come so close in the past.

Back to the Future!

Well here we are. In some ways the portables today surpass the DynaBooks dreams, in other was they aren't there yet -- but still we have leaped forward and momentum is building. The costs of hardware and storage dropping so rapidly are enabling whole new things. Some new "video recorders" are completely digital computers that allow you to do new things -- like pause a live show. Soon (within our lifetime), you will be able to access just about any show, at any time, across a network. Java technology is already the primordial "Virtual Operating System" that can be run on any computer (anywhere). In a few years the computer itself will become less important -- and humans will learn how to adapt to the new paradigms of data.

The infinite storage model is already here today (at a price) -- and has been here for a while! I just took my entire CD collection of 300 CDs, and digitized them on to my computer (using MP3). I bought a used PowerMac 6100 and hooked it up to my Television and stereo system amplifier and networked it to my upstairs computer (a server). Now I've got my own "KDAV" radio station that plays what I want, when I want, wherever I want it to. I can even buy little handheld hardware devices (MP3 players) and take the songs with me (car or walking). I can also access my music selection (and my home computer) from work (across the Internet), so even the infinie network is becoming a reality. I and my wife can both be listening to different parts of the collection (at different locations) at the same time. My physical "things" -- like CD's, no longer mean anything, it is the data that is important. The compact disc shaped chunk of stamped plastic is nothing more than a physical license that allow me rights to hear my data (music)! Imagine what happens when record companies get a clue about licensing and almost completely eliminate the costs of manufacturing and distribution!?!

The hardware cost have plummeted and performance is approaching infinity. I bought a low end 5+ year old computer (6100), surplus, for dirt ($5.00 -- and a few dollars and extra parts tacked on to do what I want). Now that was a good deal -- but the point is that hardware is becoming near free. America's surplus computer equipement is empowering the world. Think about it -- the Space Shuttle flew to space using five computers that aren't as powerful as the original Macintosh (they are actually more closely related in power to the Apple]['s) -- my microwave oven probably has far more computing power than the space shuttle originally did. My car has over 100 microprocessors in it. Infinite performance is also in the near future.

A few years ago (about 4 or 5) I bought a high capacity (for the time) 2 1/2" portable hard drive in an external enclosure. I got a few cables (adaptors and power supplies), one each for work, home, and mobile. I put my Operating System, Applications and my data on this little drive that fit in my shirt-pocket, and used to just walk up to one of my locations and plug it in and reboot, and do the same work I was doing at home 15 minutes earlier somewhere else. Of course there were issues (cost, speed and capacity) but the concepts were the same as they will be in the future. Today my solutions are primitive old-shoe (bronze age) sort of things -- if I wanted to be really cutting edge I could try to pull it off using little credit card sized storage devices, or FireWire or USB drives, and boot across many platforms (which is possible). I can make Windows run a Virtual Mac (poorly), or make a Mac run Virtual Windows (better). Of course UNIX variants are in the mix as well. The point is that infinite portability of data is here already (just a little expensive) and it is getting better and cheaper by the year.

The transformability of the hardware (to meet my needs) is all here -- my system came with me on a drive, the computers were just where I ran the stuff. And this is getting better day by day as well. As for inifinite configurability across a network, that goes back even further. I've been using Timbuktu to connect and control my computer remotely for many years (nearing 10 years now). And the Mac was late to that party. Telnet and command lines (like UNIX) have been playing this "remote access" game for over 20 years -- and much longer if we go back to dumb terminals and minicomputers or mainframes. I learned computers by remote contolled interface (and multi-user operating systems).


A decade ago a friend (Paul Starey) and I were hacking and connecting Macs (using the speaker and the Mic. port) to digitally encode and decode infrared to control video and stereo devices. Paul pushed the envelope and hooked up speech recognition and speech synthesis for home automation through cordless phones and using hypercard to program things. Parts of the system were a tad clunky but amazingly functional for the time. Now a decade later, the computer can replace just about every device we were trying to control -- and many that we hadn't. This is what digital convergence is about. There are no VCRs, TVs, Stereo's, CD-Players, Fax, Modems, Telephones and so on. We are creating computers with networks that pass data around. Some of the computers are specialized and look like other things, and how you get the data in or out changes a little from device to device -- but it is still just a computer and a network. Once in digital form, it is all the same from there -- and the completely mutable victim of imagination. The virtual world is colliding with and consuming the physical one.

Think about the ramifications of this and it is just mind bending. There is no business that will not be effected -- and no solution or technology that won't be improved. Think of your kids and something like education. Remote learning is becoming a reality and correspondense courses are far more versatile (and useful) than a generation ago. 20 years ago, it would take me multiple trips to a library and weeks to create a good report -- now I can do it on-line with better research, and more timely information. I've even communicated with people involved in the research directly (on some thesis or book) and I get responses and discussions with them! I've read about a new research paper, written an article on it, and gotten a response from the key participants, researchers and designers all in the same day! They may have only published the paper days before -- and they didn't have to worry about distribution costs. Networks and cost of information plummeting will make education damn near free and infinite! Think of the reprocussions of the power of this knowledge perculating through society!

These small tales are just what one geek is doing, and I'm certainly not the first to do this stuff -- and not the most advanced. I'm just doing it with cheap off the shelf equipement and unusual ideas -- and I'm standing on the shoulders of giants. Imagine what next generation will be able to do, while standing on our shoulders, without the limits of our puny little imaginations, and our rediculously primitive hardware and network restrictions?

Created: 07/04/99
Updated: 11/09/02

Top of page

Top of Section