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Intel CEO predicts a more personalised Internet

By Brett Winterford on 10 January 2008

In a visionary speech to the CES trade show in Las Vegas, Intel chief executive Paul Otellini predicted the rise of a more "personal Internet" - one which will be proactive in serving users the information and entertainment they need in a more intuitive and personalised way.

Today's Internet, he said, is a "go-to" Internet.

"The Internet reacts to our requests rather than anticipating them," he told the conference at the Venetian Hotel and Casino.

In the future, he predicts Internet services will be more proactive, predictive and context aware.

"The Internet is going to come to us," he said, "bringing us the information we need at any given time."

He expects this to have a radical affect on the wider technology industry.

When computing came to the desktop in the eighties and nineties, "computing became personal," he said, and "innovation, collaboration and standards drove growth beyond what anyone could imagine."

"I believe that the Internet is following the same path today."

Otellini said he expects the mobile Internet device, armed with mobile broadband and location-aware technologies such as GPS, to be the one that makes best use of this "personal" Internet.

Demonstrating a number of future applications on a mobile internet device, Otellini opened a window into a future where location-based services can aid users real-time in an intuitive way. In one demonstration, the device's camera could recognise objects on a street or translate a restaurant menu, serving up an "augmented reality". While the demos were staged at CES (replicated back-stage on a more powerful computer than the mobile device in his hand), Otellini says the continual shrinking of transistors could see such services come to the mobile device in the not too distant future.

There are four major obstacles to delivering such an experience today, he said. The first is silicon. The mobile internet device, the "next big thing" in computing, he said, will need a more compute-powerful, more power-efficient processor. The second obstacle is the lack of a ubiquitous wireless broadband infrastructure to deliver these services in a wider range of locations. Third, Internet services lack context, he said, that ability to know what we need at a given point in time. And finally, he expects that computing will need to come up with more natural, human interfaces to engage with.

In terms of silicon, Otellini believes Intel to be well on the way to making the dream a reality. The company continues to find ways to shrink transistors. To illustrate, Otellini showed how a 1971 Intel chip (the Intel 4004) featured 2250 transistors and was 10 microns in size. Today's chips, Otellini said, contain a whopping 820 million transistors. That many transistors in 1971 would have required a wafer nine feet by six feet, which would consume the energy of 200 U.S. households. "Instead its the size of a thumbnail," he said.

From a wireless perspective, Otellini predicted that the WiMAX standard, technology in which Intel Capital has invested in significantly, will win out over other competing standards to deliver the necessary ubiquitous access to the Internet for mobile devices. WiMAX is particularly strong in delivering online video, he said.

"In the next five to ten years, we at Intel believe WiMAX will bring about the change necessary," he said.

The third obstacle is context. Otellini said we need to move from searching for information on a network towards a network that finds you the information you need proactively. These services will require that users give the network an indication of their location, their preferences, and other information of a private nature.

"The impetus is on us as an industry to provide security and privacy users need," he said.

The final hurdle is interfaces. Otellini used the example of the motion and gesture sensing technology of Nintendo Wii, which has revolutionised gaming by offering more human ways of interacting with the computer, as an example of what's to come.

"Its popularity lies with the interface and not the graphics," he said. "You expect to engage and interact with the Wii. In gaming, we have moved from the keyboard to mouse to joystick to wands - with each step, a more natural engagement."

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