The Internet at 60
(IDG) -- You set your alarm clock for 6 a.m. But the trusty device starts the coffee maker and wakes you at 5:30 a.m. because it was scanning the Internet and discovered that an accident has traffic jammed up heading into the office.
Once you get to work, you deliver a business presentation with the help of a chip that whispers real-time stock information directly into your ear.
Welcome to the Internet in 2029.
While founders of the Internet and industry watchers argue the specific birthday of the 'Net, most generally agree that its foundation was laid 30 years ago, either this month or next. There is little agreement whether it began with the first node installed, the first transmission between a mainframe and an Interface Message Processor 15 feet away or with the first logon via the network.
What the founders do agree on is that there is much in store for the next 30 years. And that vision has the 'Net rocketing off laptops and handheld devices straight into the walls of our homes, the lenses of our sunglasses and even our bodies through embedded chips that will serve as spare brains.
The Jetsons never imagined it would be like this. But the Jetsons didn't have the Internet.
"Face it. We're about to move into a science fiction world," says Allan Weis, who helped build the first major Internet backbone in 1987 when he worked for IBM. "This technology is moving by a factor of 10 every five years. That's a factor of a 1,000 in 15 years. . . . People won't be able to believe what the Internet can do in 30 years."
Weis and other Internet visionaries say it's impossible to accurately predict the specifics of how the Internet will transform itself in the next 10 or 15 years. Thirty years ago, none of them would have anticipated receiving e-mail from their mothers or watching the stock market change because of online trading. The astronomical growth that the Internet has already been through is enough to boggle even their minds.
But they don't mind taking a stab at what they envision it will look like.
"Twenty or 30 years from now, you won't be talking to me over the telephone," Weis says. "Through display technology, you'll be right there in front of me. I'll be able to reach out and touch you, and you'll be able to feel that."
And Weis, who today is president and CEO of Advanced Network & Services in Armonk, N.Y., adds that display technology will transform our idea of education.
"If you're trying to understand, for example, the forces between atoms and molecules, it's hard to do that through a book," he says. "In 10 years, you'll put gloves on, grab a molecule, pull at the atoms and feel the pressures. What kind of learning will you get from that?"
Leonard Kleinrock, who as a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., researched packet switching and then went on to help install the first node on the ARPAnet at UCLA in September 1969, says the Internet has only made baby steps so far.
"The Internet is moving out of cyberspace and into smart space," says Kleinrock, who now is professor of computer science at UCLA and chairman and founder of Nomadix, Inc., an Internet start-up in Santa Monica, Calif.
"Your walls will have logic, processing, online connections and cameras. You'll walk into the room and it will know you arrived. You can ask aloud for information and a table of contents will pop up in the air and then tell you that the book you need is down the hall on a shelf.
"You'll also wear a body net connecting the devices around you. If your body net and my body net approach each other, they will recognize that and give us each information about the other," he says.
Don Heath, president and CEO of the Reston, Va.-based Internet Society, says the Internet will connect everything in his life from his alarm clock, to his grocer, to chips embedded in his clothing.
"The Internet will be so integral to everything we do, it will be transparent," Heath says. "The clothes you're wearing will know where you are. You'll say, 'I'm flying to Atlanta. What's the weather like there?' And a voice will answer you and tell you the weather, while it confirms your plane tickets and seating assignment."
And Vint Cerf, who, together with Robert Kahn, invented IP, adds that he expects that within just eight years the Internet will be out of this world - literally. Cerf, senior vice president for Internet architecture and technology at MCI WorldCom, is working with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to build an interplanetary backbone to serve space exploration, as well as benefit online communication on Earth.
"The first satellites go into orbit around Mars in 2008, as many as a half dozen of them," says Cerf, who estimates that more than 50% of the world's economy will be online by 2010.
"We hope to have a more or less stable interplanetary backbone in place by 2040. . . . The Internet will almost certainly be nearly ubiquitous - perhaps more penetrant than television, radio and telephony combined. The world's knowledge will find its way to the 'Net."
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