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IBM’s Internet Point Man Gazes Into Virtual Future

Tuesday, April 18, 2000

By Jon Swartz

John Patrick wears slacks, a sport coat and beaming grin when describing the future of the Internet.

Patrick, IBM’s vice president of Internet technology, animatedly gestured with one hand while munching a bagel in the other during a recent breakfast interview. “In the end, the Internet is about a massive transfer of power from institutions to people,” he said, with understated glee.

Glimpsing into his crystal ball, Patrick sees the next-generation Net “everywhere and always on.” With improved broadband connections and the proper hardware design, for example, owners of cell phones and information appliances will routinely exchange instant messages with anyone in the world in any language. A digital translator under development at IBM (nyse: IBM) makes it possible for an American to send a note in English to a friend in Mexico, who can read it in Spanish.

Not impressed? Then how about the “Buddy Box” software project at Big Blue, which lets you ask questions about the weather and stock prices on an instant-messaging system? Think of it as Ask Jeeves on “andro.” Another technology in the works, called “transcoding,” extracts valuable information from Web pages and electronically relays it to cyber surfers. Not too shabby, as a colleague of mine might say.

Of course, none of this “pervasive computing” would be possible without cell phones, which Patrick refers to as “the big game changer” in the dot-comization of America.

“There really is no limit to what we can do with information in the 21st century,” Patrick says. “The fun part is putting technology to use.”

That is bound to bring an infectious smile to his and other geeks’ faces.

Jon Swartz is a senior editor in Forbes.com’s Silicon Valley Bureau. Previously, he was an Internet columnist and reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He has covered Silicon Valley for more than a decade.