Saturday, November 17, 2007

Internet's future

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — When more than 1,700 technology experts from around the world envision the Internet's future, they see cars and household appliances that are online, wireless Internet networks in remote African villages and astronauts e-mailing one another from different corners of outer space.

Such visions of the future were trumpeted at a landmark U.N. Internet Governance Forum to plan the next stages of one of the most revolutionary communication tools in history. Participants can't make binding decisions, but can lay the groundwork for future policy.

Many of the government officials, technology experts and other trendsetters at the conference, which ended Thursday, said the Internet has only now hit its stride. Key to its future, many said, will be bringing online the four-fifths of the globe that still lacks Internet access, as well as combating cybercrime and other malicious uses of the network.

The next generation of technology is on its way and will make the Internet an even more integral part of people's lives, said Vinton Cerf, a U.S. computer engineer and one of the fathers of the Internet.

He's now chief Internet evangelist to technology giant Google and remains a pioneer. One of his side projects is helping the National Aeronautics and Space Administration build an interplanetary network that would let astronauts e-mail each other without routing their messages through Earth.

"Wherever you are, you'll have the potential to get all this information, really all of the world's knowledge," Cerf said. "If you don't take advantage of this information available to you and others do, you'll have a hard time competing."

Holding up his BlackBerry, Cerf said that such mobile devices would soon become the main portal to the network, with global positioning systems that tell users where they are and what's around them, no matter where they are on the planet.

He also said that molecular-scale computing would become the norm as conventional technology bumps into the laws of physics that limit how quickly processors run and how compact they can be.

Molecular computing means harnessing the computing power of DNA and other biological material to run computers tens of thousands of times faster than those with today's conventional processors.

For billions of people in the developing world, however, just getting online would be an improvement, said John Dada, the program director of a nonprofit Nigerian anti-poverty agency.

More than 4 billion people aren't online, and many of them have never sent an e-mail or accessed a Web site, he said. Only 4 percent of Africans are online, compared with about four-fifths of U.S. residents.

"There is absolute awareness of the Internet in the world," Dada said.
"The hardware is the problem."

Dewayne Hendricks
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