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Technology
Past and Future

Column
For the record
Science &
Technology
Science: A look to the future
Technology: Past and future
Education
Hamdard University
Allama Iqbal Open University
Institute of Business
Management

Anniversary
Quaid-e-Azam

From Diana J. Choyce
Dec 27, 1999 - Jan 02, 2000

Technology is indeed increasing faster than anyone could have expected

As I sit here writing this article, I'm also watching US Astronauts walking in space. I know that doesn't sound so incredible. After all, we have watched liftoffs, landings and space missions over the television for awhile now. However, 50 years ago it would have been impossible. And the real wonder, is that I'm watching them via a live video feed through my web browser. At the same time I am watching the bidding process, also through my web browser, for a video game that my son just has to have. Ten minutes to go and he is still high bidder. We have come a very long way in the last millennium.

The history of computing is actually only a little over 50 years old. But the groundwork for a need to use it, was laid long before that. The invention of the movable type press in 1440 was the spark that lit the fire under information technology. It provided a way to print information for the masses. And once people embraced the concept, they couldn't get enough. 1946 the first fully electronic computer, ENIAC, was developed at the University of Pennsylvania. It contained over 17,000 vacuum tubes and filled a whole room. In 1969 the core of the internet was launched as ARAPAnet. It was meant as a way research agencies and universities to communicate with one another. In 1981 IBM introduced the personal computer, and Microsoft introduced the MS-DOS operating system. 1984 saw the birth of the Apple Macintosh computer, and in 1990 the world wide web was created. Information technology has exploded into the world from these humble milestones. And the explosion will continue to reverberate for some time to come.

IBM's led the way into the era of personal computing by creating a machine that was almost portable compared to the units that took up whole rooms. It also created an air of monopoly since its computers only ran IBM software. Enter the Compaq company which found a way around IBM's treasured copyrights and patents to make the first IBM compatible computer. Their goal was a machine that would accept anyone's software or accessories. By 1986 they introduced the Deskpro which ran on an Intel 16 megahertz chip and used 32 bit applications which was a first. By contrast, Intel has just announced the release of its Pentium III class 800 megahertz chip. And they expect to increase that to 1000 in the very near future. Some people see the PC as only a means to connect to the internet while others see it as an all purpose tool. Today many companies are introducing PC type units whose only reason for being is internet connection. And since many companies are expanding their inner network to the internet, this may be a profitable direction. Companies are finding it easier to provide access to their manufacturers right through to their consumers, entirely on the internet. It is an ideal way to control supply, processing, billing, and retail sales.

Over the last five years the internet has seen tremendous growth. From what started as a place to put up a homepage so family could see pictures of the new baby, it has expanded into a huge network. Covering real time news, a wealth of research information, and the biggest shopping mall ever built it has certainly blossomed. And its available to everyone in the world who can get a computer and a connection. In the years ahead it will makes huge strides in availability. There are cell phones out now that can browse the web. And plans are in the works for connecting many other devices. A new project called Bluetooth has the eye of many of the leading companies. This technology allows electronic devices such as headphones, PC Cards, USB adapters and mobile phone adapters to contact each other via wireless methods. All without any input from the user. Companies such as Ericsson, IBM Corporation, Intel Corporation, Nokia, Toshiba Corporation, 3Com Corporation, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft Corporation, and Motorola have banded together to research applications for Bluetooth. They are hoping for a whole new path of technology and profitability to develop.

There are many other technology ideas capturing the attention of companies. And starting next year research and development should begin in earnest. Most companies have been occupied in solving their Y2K problems over the last two years, and as a result most research has been put on the back burners. Otis Elevator has partnered with IBM and Next Generation to install video displays in its elevators. Next will provide content while IBM will provide hardware, software and technical assistance. Domain Dynamics, the commercial developers of the TESPAR (Time Encoded Signal Processing and Recognition) speech verification system, has developed the technology for use on mobile phone networks. Tespar says it can now offer high levels of voice recognition and speech identification to allow users to be identified and their speech transcribed across a typical mobile phone connection. Space Imaging of Thornton in Colorado, is releasing use of its Ikonos satellite images to commercial customers this year. The prices will range from $30 to $600 per square mile. A minimum order of $1,000 is required. The satellite was launched September 24 on a Lockheed Martin Athena II rocket. It can detect objects on the Earth's surface as small as a card table.

Technology is indeed increasing faster than anyone could have expected. Its advances have brought knowledge and understanding as well as competition, lawsuits, and ethical dilemmas. Much of it was intended to help us work less, but it may only be making us work harder. When one is always available through any number of communication devices it is hard to take a much needed break. Perhaps the Y2K soothsayers have a point. If we all lose our electric at the first of the year, we can all finally sit down and take a breath. Meanwhile, my son has won his bid here and will get his video game. The astronauts have gone to sleep for the night. And I am left wondering if my computer will be working when the year turns over, so I can write my next article.