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Lost in Cyberspace

Whither the Internet?

This article was originally published on June 27, 2000 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Most of us now accept that the Internet is here to stay, that its ease of use and ability to help us both communicate and manage data are making it increasingly indispensible to daily life.

And for this majority which accepts the 'Net as simply another tool of our modern age, the main question about online life is what lies ahead – what new developments await to improve the Internet?

Due to the technical complexities of all things computers, it's actually fairly easy to predict the immediate future. For all the talk of "Internet time," and how quickly products can age, it still takes year to develop and perfect new technologies before they're ready for the market.

So looking ahead, some of the likely advances are faster Internet connections, more multimedia, and more online commerce. DSL and cable are already offering high-speed access in the nation's urban areas. But even in the outlying regions, new advances in utilizing standard copper telephone wires, as well as the continued drop in price for satellite Internet connections, mean that the current 56kbps limit for most folks isn't going to last more than a few years.

What the faster speeds will allow is a more interesting and multimedia Internet: more pages will include sound and video as faster connections make downloading those larger files more practical. There are even a handful of companies now designing digital scent generators that would plug into your computer and generate different smells: Perhaps garlic for a page about cooking classes, or gasoline and gunpowder for an online air combat game.

New security developments are also making it less risky to make purchases online. With so much potential money at stake, there's probably as much research funding for advancing the technology of e-commerce as for anything else right now.

One of the other widely predicted advances is one that's been percolating for more than 20 years: Voice recognition control of your computer.

The technology is already there; the question is do people WANT to talk to computer? (Or VCR, refrigerator and toaster oven?) For many of us, there's already too much noise in our lives – the opportunity to sit down and communicate with one another via e-mail offers a more relaxing alternative to another long-distance gab fest.

But all of these predictions are likely to come about, in greater or lesser degree.

What is equally likely, and often overlooked, is the probability – indeed, near certainty – of completely unpredicted advances. It was just over a decade ago that Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web as a way for scientists to more easily share information. While hypertext had been around as theory and experiment for over a decade before that, few if any envisioned how much the Web – with its now-ubiquitous browser pages and bright, colorful graphics – would revolutionize both the appeal and utility of the previously text-based Internet.

Certainly, other equally unanticipated developments await – inventions and ideas that will, in hindsight, seem as common-sense and obvious as the Web seems today, making us wonder why we didn't all think of them.