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Think Ahead: John Patrick

A dispatch from PC Forum 2001
February 28, 2001


John Patrick
Vice president of Internet technology

Can you name one idea that was true two PC Forums ago but is no longer valid?
I thought big bandwidth would happen faster. I thought the competition between cable and DSL and the competition between satellite and wireless would intensify, resulting in greater bandwidth for a lot more people. I even wrote an essay titled “Bandwidth Galore” two years ago. I stand by my story, but I admit that I was off by a couple of years.

There will be no more stunning mismatches between market capitalization and business ideas. Two years ago, there were a lot of ideas floating around. Many of those ideas were really good, but the size of the market for those ideas, and the related market cap justified by them, was way off. Even those of us who were direct recipients of the inflated market caps didn’t believe that they were sustainable.

That said, I truly believe that the reality of the Net is still greater than the hype. I have a three-percent rule: We’ve seen just three percent of the impact of the Net. Try any metric, and it works: What percentage of the world’s population is actually doing a transaction on the Net right now? Three percent. What percentage of available bandwidth is accessible to the average individual? Three percent. What percentage of the world’s cell phones connect to the Net? Three percent.

What business opportunity, partnership, or investment are you really excited about today?
Encryption is extraordinarily powerful. Its impact dwarfs the power of the microprocessor. Encryption will allow five very important things to happen:

Authentication: This is a big deal. We’re getting to the point where we’ll be able to verify easily that we are who we say we are — without having to go to the bank and show some stranger our driver’s license for proof.

Authorization: Once we’ve authenticated our identity digitally, we can do all kinds of things. I can transfer money to my kids at college — without making another trip to a bank to fill out forms.

Confidentiality: Let’s face it, we send our innermost personal secrets into the ether. The Net is absolutely transparent — there’s no place to hide. With encryption, I can send a message to your public key with my private key. You authenticate it, and the whole exchange is private, between us.

Integrity: This is another important by-product of encryption. Both the sender and the receiver will know that a message hasn’t been altered in any way.

Nonrepudiation: People can no longer say, “I didn’t get the message” and get away with it.
All of this is very empowering. It’s not something to fear — but it will take a certain amount of leadership to get people to embrace it. And there are already examples of fully encrypted applications: Lotus Notes was encrypted from the start. The Spanish Ministry has issued 100,000 digital identifications to its citizens, who can file taxes and receive tax information on a Web site — all 100% encrypted. We’re not quite there yet in terms of consumer applications. I can’t wait for the day when health records are encrypted.

What will we be seeing and talking about at next year’s PC Forum?
Industrial-strength infrastructure. It’s a boring, ugly-sounding idea, but it’s also absolutely mission-critical. The number of people getting on the Web and the adoption of cable modems, DSL, and satellites means that we’ve got to focus on this. We’re headed quickly to a world where you don’t log on anymore, you just are on — all the time. That not only changes the experience of the Net, it radically changes expectations.

We’ve got to build in the reliability of a rock-solid telephone network. My team is working to create an autonomic computing system. We have an autonomic nervous system: We get hot and sweat; the sweat dries and cools us down. Our bodies self-regulate. We need computer systems to self-manage as well. If one server goes down, another picks up without missing a beat.

Learn more about John Patrick on the Web. ( Look for his new book, Net Attitude, in September 2001. )