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The future of the Internet

The future of the Internet
Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Publication: Integrated IT Solutions


The Internet revolution is still in its infancy. The groundwork has been done, but what does it really have in store for us?

John R Patrick, IBM Corporation

Today, at any particular moment, the percentage of the world’s population actually doing something on the Internet is pretty small. Probably close to zero. We are at the very beginning. The Internet has so far perhaps realised 1 or 2 per cent of the full potential that it holds for businesses, governments, educational institutions and each of us as individuals. While we haven’t seen anything yet, no one can deny the profound effect the Internet has already had on how, when and why the world communicates.

What’s more, we have reached another crossroad. Several years ago, IBM put forward the view that the Internet would fundamentally change the way business is done – creating what would eventually be coined e-business. What we’ve seen has been incredible creativity in business innovation – made possible by the technology, but driven by business needs.

What comes next

Cultural, geographic and language barriers still exist. People not only speak, read and listen in different languages and dialects, but come from a variety of cultures. The Internet won’t meet its true potential until interaction is seamless, instant and always there. Technology to address the issue is already here and is evolving rapidly. Instant messaging, for example, is beginning to transform how people communicate – creating a new ‘back channel’ to supplement conference calls and email. It is no longer just a method of chatting for teenagers but a new platform for business collaboration.

New technology from IBM and Lotus is enabling people to type a message in English and have it instantly translated into the language of the recipient. When it reaches the other person, the message can be played using text-to-speech technology, such as IBM’s ViaVoice, in the recipient’s native language. The process then works in reverse when the reply is sent.

The potential of combining instant messaging, voice recognition, language translation and text to speech playback is enormous. It becomes a real-time, multilingual intercom. Think about customer service applications. Think about a person asking a question in Spanish and having that question routed to the most knowledgeable person in that subject matter, who answers the question in Chinese – the questioner then hearing the answer in Spanish. That is likely to change the game entirely.

Last winter, IBM took a bold step and openly embraced what the company envisions will be the next truly game-changing technology. That technology is Linux. The power of Linux and open-source software is something quite significant – a phenomenon I’ve seen three times during my 30 years in the information technology industry.

In 1981, the PC industry exploded, with venture capital and people gravitating toward the notion of personal computers. There was a lot of grass-roots activity and some nay-sayers said that it wasn’t necessary. It is now obvious that it was. Then in the early 1990s the introduction of TCP/IP as an open, standards-based networking protocol appeared. Once again, there was lots of venture capital, lots of start ups and of course the chant of it not really being necessary. Only a few years later, in 1999, Linux has reared its head and once again we see lots of venture capital, lots of start ups and of course the chant of it not really being necessary. The pattern and the result are unmistakable. There is no stopping Linux. It is a major shift for IT and IBM is embracing it, contributing to it, and doing everything possible to help it be all that it can be.

Worldwide standard

The future of the Internet is very bright, but IBM sees a few factors that will decide the pace at which it matures. First and foremost, open standards need to rule. The Internet is the only thing that works the in the same way everywhere around the world. We drive on different sides of the road, electrical outlets require international adapters, and mobile phones differ in transmission format. By embracing Linux, IBM has made a strong commitment to providing a level playing-field for the development of future Internet products and services.

Companies and universities are already working together and moving full steam ahead to develop the groundwork for the Next Generation Internet (NGI). What will this future Internet look like? While the actual products and methods are already in development, the final technologies that will emerge will be decided over the next few years. But we can be sure that the future will produce an Internet that is:

Fast. Today, most users of the Internet spend a large percentage of their time online just waiting – waiting to get connected to a website, waiting for pages to load, waiting for software to download. In contrast, the NGI will provide the necessary speed. In other words, it will eliminate the ‘World Wide Wait’.

Always on. Just like today’s telephone, you’ll just start using the Internet without the need for an elaborate dial-up or log-on sequence. Not only will you be always connected but the sites and applications will also be accessible, instead of vanishing and reappearing depending on network load.

Everywhere. Imagine a world where almost everything you purchase that’s worth more than $10 or $20 – whether it be a refrigerator, a shirt, or a bicycle – contains a tiny smart card that can communicate via a wireless link to the Internet? In such a world, connectivity is as common as air and your watch, trees – even your dog – radiate data. Your watch could serve as a pager. Sensors on trees around your house could tell you – or your sprinkler – that the trees need watering. Your dog’s collar could tell you where he is. Best of all, your lost car keys will be able to tell you where they are.

Natural. The Internet is still in the early stages of development. While many businesses have Web-enabled many of their business processes and are starting to provide e-commerce and customer service over the Web, users often have to struggle with interfaces and applications that force them to learn arcane procedures and commands, rather than the website adapting to their needs and preferences. Rather than users communicating the way they want to, they have to learn to communicate the way the software wants them to. The NGI will put the power in the hands of people and websites will adapt.

Intelligent. Perhaps the single biggest frustration for Internet users today is being unable to find relevant, reliable information. Today, information on the Internet is largely unstructured. New standards are emerging for encoding Web pages in a way that provides context to the pages. With that capability, websites can begin to act on behalf of people to find solutions to problems. Organisations will be able to provide more targeted and higher quality services. New tools are emerging to support the creation of this structured information. In addition, technologies are being developed that can help companies capture and share the expertise of their employees. A company’s history, thought processes and decisions, and the lessons it has learned are turning into a valuable asset that can be consulted in decision making. Old information shows its true value when it helps solve a new problem.

Easy. In the future, when we communicate or transact business using the NGI, the whole experience will flow easily from one step to the next. Software and applications will be able to talk to one another and work across time and distance. There will be no need to re-enter data repeatedly or worry about formats or reboot because your Web browser caused your email software to crash. The seamless integration of applications will enable us to get things done quickly, effectively, completely – and in the most productive way possible.

Trusted. To realise the full potential of the NGI, users must be able to trust online information and transactions as much as or more than they trust hard-copy documents today. As digital information itself becomes a major commodity, it must be both protected and authenticated. Digital IDs will make this possible.
Integration is the key

By enabling people to interact with a website, which interacts seamlessly and instantaneously with sales, marketing and logistics infrastructures, there will be real growth in their ability to do business and communicate on the Internet. It is all about application integration, the Holy Grail of e-business. No longer will marketing databases be unable to communicate with fulfilment systems because they are on incompatible systems that were designed separately at different points in time on different platforms. Today most of the transactions on the Web are between people and servers. What we are going to see with the NGI is that many of the transactions will be between server and server. Transactions we don’t see but that make our life easier, that result in us standing in fewer queues.

Visit www.ibm.com/ngi for more information on IBM’s view of the evolution of the Internet.

Author

John Patrick is vice-president of Internet technology at IBM Corporation. As IBM’s chief Internet technology officer, he leads the company’s effort to create innovative technologies that will Web-enable computer users worldwide. In addition, he serves as chairman of the Global Internet Project (www.gip.org), a group of executives from a cross-section of international companies working to ensure private-sector leadership in the development of the Internet. Mr Patrick’s Internet address is [email][email protected][/email] and his innovative personal website is at patrickWeb.com.

While at IBM, Mr Patrick has created a number of innovative programs including the alphaWorks website that is IBM’s online research and development laboratory for advanced Internet technology, and IBM’s successful Get Connected program to expand the use of the Internet both within the company and to serve as a model for other companies. One of the leading Internet visionaries, John shares his observations and insights with people around the world, inspiring new product ideas, new applications and innovative ways to use the Internet to help people meet their goals. John represents IBM around the world, is quoted frequently in the global media and speaks at dozens of conferences every year, delivering relevant, cutting-edge remarks. With IBM for more than 31 years, John spent the first half of his career in various sales, marketing and management positions. He was a pioneer and developer of IBM’s leasing business at IBM Credit Corporation, now the largest computer leasing company in the world. He was subseque
ntly the chief financial officer of various business units of IBM and was also vice-president of operations for IBM’s Computer Integrated Manufacturing Business. In 1992, John became vice president of marketing for Personal Systems and was responsible for creating the successful ThinkPad brand.

John has numerous professional roles outside IBM. He was a founding member of both the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Global Internet Project (GIP). He is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a member of the Internet Society and the ACM.

He has served on numerous boards including, The Opportunities Industrialization Corporation, The Financial Executives Institute (Atlanta Chapter), Housatonic Habitat for Humanity, and Terisa Systems.

He earned a BSc in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University, an MSc in Management from the University of South Florida, and also holds an LLB in law.