- This chapter takes a look at the
information technology industry. Progress in the science
and technology of computers and telecommunications is
being driven by business, government, military,
entertainment, and the home market. This is a worldwide
phenomenon that has huge momentum. In recent years, the
pace of change has been increasing-and this is built on
huge changes that have already occurred.
- The previous chapter included a
section discussing Nicholas Negroponte, one of the
world's leading visionaries for electronic technologies.
His 1995 book, Being Digital, explores how the
world will change as more and more information is
digitized (represented using 0s and 1s) and as the power
of the information processing and telecommunication
systems continues to grow. A number of his predictions
discuss major changes that will occur in the way that
business is conducted. We are already beginning to see
this, as the Web emerges as a powerful aid to business.
The following brief news item
presents one obvious advantage of digitized information.
When digital information is being sold, delivery can be
both inexpensive and fast. There is no use of a
transportation system or delivery people.
Egghead Moves Software
Sales to the Internet
All print materials can be
digitized. All film, audio tapes, and video tapes can be
digitized. All photographs can be digitized. A
substantial amount of "how to" information-for example,
how to use a machine tool to manufacture a particular
part, or how to solve a particular type of math or
science problem-can be digitized.
The digitization of books, videos,
and other static information produces second-order
effects. A digitized book can be shipped across the
country faster than a hard copy of the book. It does not
go out-of-print because of the economics of printing
presses. Progress in Artificial Intelligence has produced
systems that can read digitized text out loud. Thus, a
sight-impaired person can now gain access to any textual
materials that have been digitized.
For still another example of a
second-order effect, consider the "how to" books. The
computerization of "how to" information adds a new
dimension to a book. A computerized machine tool can
store instructions for how to make a particular item, and
it can make it. A computerized mathematics package can
store information about how to solve various types of
math problems, and it can solve the problems. A
computer-driven laboratory instrument can both gather and
analyze data-and then make changes to what information is
being gathered and how it is being processed, in order to
better accomplish its assigned task.
The trend toward digitization can be
considered to be a megatrend (see Appendix). It is now in
full swing, and it certainly will continue. As the next
section in this chapter suggest, we are only at the
beginning of this digitization megatrend.
- Researchers at the Palo Alto
Research Center of Xerox Corporation are working on a
variety of computer/communication systems which will be
built into hundreds of different items. This research
group envisions well over a hundred such
computer/communication devices in a typical room of a
typical house. They have coined the phrase ubiquitous
computing to refer to this idea (Scientific
American, 1995, pp. 78-89).
For example, imagine a small and
inexpensive transceiver that stores some digital
information, broadcasts it when directed to do so, and
can be built into almost anything. It could be built into
a name badge or identification card (this is now being
done), print books, and your key case and billfold. If
you are looking for a particular book in your house, you
ask your main computer system to find it. Your computer
system broadcasts a message to the book's transceiver.
Your computer system uses triangulation information from
several receivers placed throughout the house to pinpoint
the location of the book. It also receives a brief
description of the book's contents and displays it for
Bill Gates, co-founder and currently
chairman of Microsoft, Inc., has received a lot of
publicity for the $50 million house he is having built.
One of the features of this house is that visitors will
receive a transceiver name badge that contains
information abut their personal interests in music and
art. As a visitor enters a room, the sound system and
television system will play music and display artwork
aligned with the visitor's interests.
The Xerox PARC researchers are
studying three different categories of
computer/communication devices that will likely be part
of ubiquitous computing: tabs, pads, and boards. Tabs are
small-they can easily be built into a name badge or the
spine of a book. Pads are roughly the size of a pad of
notebook paper. They are used for writing and displaying
notes-as scratch pads, and for doodling. Boards are
large-like a white board or blackboard, for interaction
with a roomful of people.
Many other companies are working on
products that will contribute to ubiquitous computing.
The "smartcard" provides a good example of major changes
we can expect as ubiquitous computing occurs. A credit
card-sized computer can contain a microprocessor, memory,
Smarter All the Time
Smartcards at the 1996
The first news item indicated that
Motorola is betting big on the future of the smartcard.
Many other companies are doing likewise. Note that
Motorola's planned level of productivity-about 520
million smartcards a year-is roughly equivalent to one
smartcard for each ten people on earth.
The second news item indicates that
a telephone can be modified to provide connectivity
between a smartcard and the computer systems of the
world. It will become commonplace for people to carry
smartcards and other very small computers, and to make
routine use of them.
- The fields of telecommunications,
electronic entertainment (including television and
interactive games), and computers are rapidly coming
together. We see this in business mergers and we see it
in products that are coming to market.
Note that although the number of
online newspapers is a very small percentage of all
newspapers, we are likely witnessing the start of a major
trend. Notice also that this is happening in many
countries-not just in the United States.
A similar trend is occurring for
magazines and for research journals. Each publisher is
faced by what to publish in hard copy, what to publish on
CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs, and what to publish electronically.
It is clear that hard copy will not disappear overnight.
However, we are seeing rapid growth in online
publications. This is now a megatrend, and continued
rapid growth in online publication can be expected.
Compaq, Thomson to
Will Computers Replace
of the Electronics Industry
- The electronics industry is now
quite large and it is continuing to grow quite
The following two brief news items
appeared earlier in this book. They suggest that the
impending silicone shortage will be overcome and that
continued rapid growth will occur in the electronics
Chip Sales Up
Growth in the
The first of the previous two news
items contains baseline data-where we are now. The second
is a forecast of yearly growth in the electronics
industry at an even higher rate than we have averaged
over the past three decades. A 20% annual rate of growth,
sustained over a period of years, produces astoundingly
The table given in Figure 6.1
projects a more conservative growth rate of 15% a year.
This would be a continuation of the yearly growth rate of
the past 36 years, and is considerably less than the
forecast provided by Vladi Catto. In addition, the table
is extended for only 15 years from 1995. Predictions
based on continued compound growth rates far into the
future are highly suspect. However, they are interesting
to look at and speculate about.
Figure 6.1. Projected growth of the semiconductor
In Figure 6.1 we have started with
the 1995 baseline data. In the second column, we have
then projected a 15% a year annual growth for the next 15
years. The third column is a rough estimate of the
world's population, with an estimated 1.5% annual rate of
growth. The fourth column is an estimate of yearly
dollars of production of semiconductors per person on
All of the dollar amounts in Figure
6.1 are in 1995 dollars. Thus, the $167.81 per person
amount in the year 2010 is roughly a tenth of the cost of
a medium-priced microcomputer. However, a medium-priced
microcomputer in the year 2010 will be at least 100 times
as fast as the 1995 microcomputer. The net effect is that
the amount of computing power being produced in the year
2010 will likely be the equivalent of 10 medium-priced
vintage 1995 microcomputers-for every person on
- The telecommunications industry
makes use of two basic modes of delivering bits of
information: land lines, and electronic broadcasts.
Examples of land lines include the "twisted pair" copper
wires that come into many homes, coaxial cables, and
fiber optics. Examples of electronic broadcasts include
cellular telephones, microwave transmission systems, and
earth-orbiting satellites. The two basic modes of
delivering bits of information are often combined in a
Wireless Link to Long-Distance
One way to think about the two
general categories of connectivity is that the amount of
broadcast capacity is relatively limited while the amount
of land line capacity is essentially unlimited. The
physics of broadcasting-there are a limited number of
frequencies-provides bounds to growth in broadcast
capacity. However, more and more fiber optics can be
produced and installed, and still use up only a small
part of the physical space available on earth.
To put this into perspective, we are
used to the idea of individual telephone lines being
readily available at home and work. You can pick up a
telephone and direct dial to well over a billion
telephones located throughout the world. Although the
quality of the connection varies, chances are that the
connection will be good enough to carry on a conversation
or to transmit electronic bits of information at perhaps
14,400 or 28,800 bits per second or more. Thus, you can
send fax or e-mail messages.
The bandwidth of this "telephone
conversation" level of connectivity is adequate for some
tasks, but totally inadequate for others. For example, a
computer screen size color photograph that is digitized
and stored in a computer might require about 5 million
bits of storage. To transmit this picture on a 28,800
bits per second line would take about three minutes. A
video consisting of 24 frames per second would require
more than an hour of such transmission for each second of
This problem has been approached in
two distinct ways. First, it is possible to "compress" a
digitized picture into a greatly reduced number of bits.
Using sophisticated mathematical techniques, it is
possible to achieve a compression ratio of about 100 to
1. This means that the picture can be sent 100 times as
fast, provided one has appropriate software and computing
power at the sending and receiving stations. (With a 100
to 1 compression ratio, one hour of video is
approximately 5 gigabits-that is, 5,000,000,000
Second, tremendous progress has
occurred in making better use of the "twisted pair" of
copper wires used in telephone systems. The following
brief news item summarizes the progress.
The combination of data compression
and the new type of modem mentioned above means that
pictures can be sent over ordinary telephone lines
perhaps 5,000-10,000 times as fast as is suggested by our
first calculations. This is fast enough to send
television-quality video in real time over an ordinary
A second approach to providing high
bandwidth connectivity to people's homes is to use the
cable television system. (Note that the "hundreds of
times faster than ordinary telephone lines" speed
mentioned in the following news item is a comparison with
a 28,800 bits per second modem-not the much faster modem
analyzed above. Clearly, there is an interesting
competition shaping up between the cable industry and the
Company Has It All
A third approach to high bandwidth
connectivity into homes and other places is use of fiber
optics. Fiber is now cheap enough so that many new homes
are built with fiber connectivity rather than the
traditional twisted pair of copper wires. Currently
available fiber optics have more than a thousand times
the bandwidth of the twisted pair of copper wires used by
the telephone companies. Moreover, this technology is
also making rapid progress.
A Trillion Bits Per
A speed of one trillion bits per
second is 400 times the speed of the fastest commercial
optical fiber systems currently in use. Using the types
of data compression ratios that are often used to store
and transmit video, such a speed means that two hours of
video could be transmitted in 1/25 of a second over a
single fiber. A typical fiber optic "cable" contains from
a dozen to several hundred fibers.
A fourth approach to high bandwidth
connectivity into homes and other places is use of
satellites and earth-based digital broadcast systems. The
next decade will bring us the satellite system discussed
in the following brief news item.
Reaches for the Sky
Teledesic Gets Approval
On a worldwide basis, there are a
number of companies in the process of developing orbiting
satellite systems. In early 1997 there were about 150
commercial satellites in orbit. Plans had been developed
for orbiting an additional 1,700 such satellites during
the next decade. These will serve a variety of
communications purposes. One goal is to make possible
portable telephone and Internet service from every place
on earth via satellites.
- It is relatively easy to predict a
number of characteristics of the computer hardware that
will be commercially available about 5 years from now.
That is because it takes about 5 years to move a chip
from pilot production to large scale production.
Predictions up to 10 years are reasonably good if done by
those who have intimate knowledge of the leading edge
research frontiers. That is because it takes about 10
years to move from this leading edge research through
pilot production and into mass production of the chips.
With this type of background, we can
examine quotes such as the following:
New Process Yields
Sturdier, Faster Chips
Packs More Power on a Chip
If the "Cookie-Cutter Microchips"
forecast proves to be correct, this will be an astounding
breakthrough. Current state-of-the-art chip factories are
able to imprint wafers with lines that are 0.25 to 0.35
microns in width. A factor of 10 decrease in line width
means a factor of 100 increase in the number of
transistors that will fit on a given sized chip.
At the current time, South Korea
leads the world in the production of computer memory
chips. However, many other companies are competing in
this market. One news items talks about a billion bit
memory chip, while the other talks about a four billion
bit chip. Today's medium-priced microcomputer typically
comes with about 16 megabytes of chip memory. One of the
gigabit chips has eight times this capacity, and one of
the 4-gigabit chips will have 32 times this capacity.
Four Gigabit Memory
There is a huge and rapidly growing
worldwide demand for computer memory chips. Samsung and
NEC are but two of the many companies that are investing
in the research and in the manufacturing capacity needed
to meet this steadily growing demand.
Worldwide construction of chip
manufacturing plants during the 2-year period 1995-96 was
approximately the same as the number of plants
constructed in the previous 10 years. As suggested in the
following quote, the costs are staggering.
Costs of Chip
Note that the article containing the
above information was written just before a massive
decline occurred in the sales price of memory chips. (The
price decline has been attributed to an oversupply.) At
the time this book was being written, chip memory was
selling for less than $10 per megabyte.
Smaller Chips, Bigger
IBM to Build
Strategic Computing Initiative
It is clear that the worldwide
electronics industry is "betting big" on the future of
information technology. The electronics industry is
sufficiently confident in the forecasts for continued
rapid growth that it is willing to invest many billions
of dollars each year.
- The past few years have seen a very
rapid drop in the cost of secondary storage. Many
medium-priced microcomputers now come with a gigabyte
hard disk drive. In terms of storing pure print materials
(no pictures), a gigabyte is approximately 1,000 books.
The future will see continued rapid progress in
developing ever larger and more cost effective secondary
IBM Develops Hefty Hard
Boosts Storage Capacity
- Computer display technology is
continuing to improve. At the current time, the TV-type
display still dominates the market. Such cathode ray tube
(CRT) technology predates the development of television
in the mid-1930s.
HP, Compaq to Invest in
Flat Panel Start-Up
Flat PC Screens Head
for the Desktop
New Display Technology
A Foldable Computer
- As personal computers get both
faster and have more memory, there is a steadily
increasing amount of computing power available to devote
to software. Here are five important software trends:
- Computer systems will continue to become more
"user friendly." A user friendly system is easy to
use, easy to learn how to use, and forgiving of
- Continued movement toward seamlessness among
various software tools. That is, information is
increasingly easily passed between and/or shared among
various computer applications. From the point of view
of the user, the various computer applications such as
word processor, database, spreadsheet, and so on will
gradually merge into a single application.
- Steadily improving agent technology-artificially
intelligent "agents" that can help a person to solve
problems and accomplish tasks. An agent can sort your
e-mail, throwing away pieces (junk mail) that you
don't care to even open. An agent can browse the Web,
looking for newly published information on topics of
- A strong movement toward "learner centered"
software. A learner builds on previous knowledge and
skills. Learners differ. Software developers are
beginning to understand that the human-computer
interface must fit the learner's needs. Thus, it must
adjust to (accommodate) the various knowledge and
skills that different learners bring to the task. We
can expect to see significant progress in this in the
- Object-oriented programming (object-oriented
software) will continue to grow in importance. The
following quote from Steve Jobs summarizes this
- Once you understand objects,
its clear that all software will eventually be written
using objects. Again, you can argue about how many
years it will take, and who the winners and losers
will be during this transition, but you can't argue
about the inevitably of this transition.
Objects are just going to be the way all
software is going to be written in five years or-pick
a time. It's so compelling. It's so obvious. It's so
much better that it's just going to happen.
February). p. 102.
- This section contains a number of brief news items
that do not fit well into the other categories used in
this chapter. Each gives a hint of things to come.
Deep Blue Falls to
Note: In a rematch that took place in May 1997, Deep
Blue defeated Kasparov.
Given a specific enough problem,
computers can do very well. Deep Blue is a worthy
competitor for the world chess champion. In terms of
flexibility and ingenuity, however, humans are far better
than machines. This will continue.
The amount of computing power in
Deep Blue will eventually become commonplace in
medium-priced computers Thus, we need to consider what
kinds of problems can be addressed by the routine use of
so much computing power. For example, the type of
computing power in Deep Blue can be applied to problems
such as weather forecasting.
Career Change for Deep
Forget the Home PC-Now
It's the "Information Furnace"
Picture Phone Makers
Target Desktop Video
- Essentially all progress in
information technology is being driven by forces outside
of education. That is, the education market is small and
its technical demands are small, relative to business,
government, and the military.
However, the "trickle down" effect
is immense. The super computer of today is the
medium-priced computer 20 years from now. The best of
network connectivity of today will be in homes and
schools 20 years from now.
The challenge is to educate today's
students for their roles as responsible adult citizens
and emerging leaders.
The next chapter contains a number
of forecasts for the future of information technology in