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Progress goes in one direction.

Progress. Change. The rate of change. I've used these kinds of abstractions a lot to describe the forces at work that are driving the world to the point of saturation of information and intelligence. Those of us who are parents can see these ideas in a very tangible form every day of our lives.

One day you've got a little tadpole-thing swimming in your wife's belly, the next you've got somebody kicking like crazy in there and doing loop-the-loops during the night. Eventually the baby is born and then you really get to see it happen. The baby who starts out as totally helpless and immobile quickly learns to sit up, crawl, and before you know it, is scurrying around the house on two feet as happy as can be. And every single milestone is a point of demarcation in time -- your baby only gets bigger and stronger and more capable and powerful every single day that passes.

'Remember when he was just a tiny little baby?' Yes! But that's what it is, remembering. Because there's no reversion, there's no going back. And this is how it is too as an investor in the information economy. It's pretty easy to remember a time not 10 years ago before widespread adoption of the internet, before WiFi, before picture phones and cell phone TV. But that's not the world we live in now, and it never will be again. The things that have been put in place through technological progress and standards adoption will only set the stage for more capable and powerful technologies to come -- and even more powerful waterfalls of economic growth than those that were spawned by their predecessors.

When you think of the information economy we know today as something that's still in its infant stages, it piques your curiosity. What forms will it take? What will be the engines of growth? What's going to surprise me?

It's impossible to know all the answers to those questions. But through a careful study of trends in existing technology, attention to the bleeding edges of research in all forms of IT, and immersion in the imaginations of the great writers and futurists of our time -- in particular Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec, one can arrive at an understanding of the kinds of things we're likely to see.

Intelligence Everywhere

Through a process of networking every single device that plugs into an electrical outlet, applying RFID tags to billions of items electronic and otherwise, and developing highly sophisticated geographic information systems, we will be able to saturate the world indoors and out with information and intelligence. The 'web page' will not be our point of interaction with the internet, but rather the internet will fade into the background of everyday life as a form of 'ambient intelligence'. Intelligent software agents will perform many of the mundane and repetitive tasks required of us to navigate cyberspace like checking for emails, emptying spam folders, clicking around, typing, etc.

The result of this will be an active, personalized 'information overlay' on top of the world as we know it, that allows us to control devices, interact with people around the world, receive and push information back out to others instananeously. Information relevant to each of us will be gathered from the web and displayed as it happens or as our preferences suggest. The familiar 'news crawl' from cable news will accompany us where ever we go, customized to meet our individual needs.

Microvision virtual display eyeglasses, and eventually contact lenses, will be the medium through which we interact and control our experience of this successor to the internet as we know it. The unique capabilities of these virtual displays will allow us to be able to enter augmented reality or virtual reality whenever we like by either overlaying see-through digital content onto our field of view, or creating an immersive 3D 'holodeck' experience that occludes the outside world. Virtual reality environments, seen today as 3D video games inhabited by character-representative avatars, will be as detailed and believable as our regular vision of life. This will be made possible through rapidly advancing graphic processing hardware and corresponding software.

If billions of dollars are spent today on cell phone ringtones, video games, wallpapers and screen savers, as well as fees for services like picture mail, and in the immediate term cell phone TV, it's easy to imagine that there are trillions of dollars to be made from these types of ambient intelligence services -- from the buildout of new types of networks that will connect everything to the chips that will provide the intelligence in it all, to the virtual displays that will be our window to the early 21st century.

And, all this just takes us to early adolescence! When you consider that all of these changes, once established, become the norm that is then necessarily put in the rear-view mirror, it can be mind-boggling to think of where we'll end up in just 20 or 30 years. Like all fathers, we will watch with amusement and wonder as our little boy internet grows into each new phase of his development. Planning in advance for these changes will allow us to put our real life kids through 'space college' without having to move into a trailer park, hopefully.


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