Futurist tells IT to prepare for a wired world

Software developers, hold on to your hats. Within five years, you’ll be writing applications that must handle huge amounts of streaming audio and video, must easily recognize and work with applications running on different network protocols and must be compelling enough to tear couch potatoes away from the Super Bowl.

That’s the advice former Bell Laboratories researcher Arno Penzias gave to several hundred developers at Software Development West ’99 in San Francisco recently. Penzias, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1978 for the discovery of radio waves dating from the beginning of the universe, told developers to prepare for a world in which every device is networked and bandwidth is cheap. He didn’t specify a time frame for these radical changes.

Just as PC prices have fallen to the point at which some companies give them away to expose customers to on-line ads, voice and data carriers will almost give away bandwidth so they can push more compelling applications — and ads — at consumers, Penzias said.

As the size and price of computer components continue to fall, handheld network appliances will automatically record the time, place and details of business meetings and other events. “The record will keep itself,” he said.

As low-cost digital cameras find their way into such devices, “the idea of urban anonymity will end” as strangers instantly identify one another through links to databases of names and faces, Penzias predicted. Casinos already use video-image recognition to spot top customers (and possible crooks) at the gaming tables, he said. “These things will all be inputs to the applications you people will write,” Penzias told the developers.

Even low-cost appliances will be networked because that will be the cheapest way to give them advanced features, he said. For example, a microwave oven would contain only rudimentary speech recognition — but would communicate with your PC, “which knows how you talk,” and would transfer that knowledge to the microwave, he said.

Allowing all those devices to communicate will be a massive challenge, he acknowledged, because the networked applications will communicate via everything from the Web’s Internet Protocol to the voice networks used by telephone providers to PC-based standards such as Fibre Channel and Ultra SCSI.

— IDG News Service