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 Future of the Internet

TECHNOLOGICAL advancement has become a truism of modern life. Moore’s Law — which states that that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit for minimum component cost doubles every 24 months — was profound when it was coined by one of Intel’s founders in 1965.

Today, it has proven so consistently accurate that it has been extended to related phenomena like processor speed and storage capacity. And it has lost its ability to shock.

We have grown accustomed to our Internet connections getting faster and our laptop computers getting smaller. New, high density storage media allow all forms of content (books, magazines, music, ­videos, movies, software and virtually anything that can be represented digitally) to be stored, shipped and exchanged ­physically and, increasingly, electronically. Programmable digital devices do ­everything from defrosting dinner and opening doors to answering the phone and organising our calendars.

The media world has not been immune to this revolution. As advances in digital technology have changed the way people communicate, consumer expectations about media consumption have begun to change. Take the telephone. The traditional world of international phone services has itself been turned on its head by the rapid expansion of the Internet and the spread of broadband Internet access services.

Mobile telephones, meanwhile, have become general purpose instruments for all manner of digital presentations and ­interactions, from sending SMS messages to viewing or downloading feature-length films. The maturation of these technologies — which will doubtless occur alongside the introduction of new creative technologies — will open up new audiences for a variety of media.

Another emergent trend is the increasing autonomy and control consumers are ­gaining over their consumption of ­traditional mass media whose producers, heretofore, have had the upper hand in deciding what we will see, hear and read and when we will do that. The Internet itself has shown us that users enjoy ­deciding for themselves what will capture their attention, including advertising.

Putting users in charge is a huge shift for the information industry, in general, and especially for the advertising industry which has had to find ways to attract user attention when it cannot force users to watch or listen to advertisements that interrupt the programme for an important announcement, so to speak.

The enduringly popular broadcast media will continue to thrive, complemented by new forms of entertainment and ­information consumption. Look at the Internet over the past five years: Blogs and (more recently) video-sharing websites have opened up new creative outlets to tens of millions of people around the world (see The art of getting noticed — P13).

At the same time, the appetite for professionally-produced content — be it news reporting or romantic comedies — continues to grow. Audiences have more choice, not only over what to consume, but also how they consume it. Regardless of the specific medium people choose, however, there will always be demand for ­high-quality content.

These media-specific effects of technological progress exist alongside more general issues that face the Internet as it continues to grow and taken on new functions. These, too, will effect the media industry as it interacts more with its ­audiences through the Web.

Privacy will continue to be an important concern for users of the Internet. These concerns will create important ethical dilemmas for companies that naturally collect personal information about Internet users in the normal course of their operation. The robustness and security of the Internet will climb in importance as we rely increasingly on it and its services. These systems are often notoriously vulnerable to various kinds of failures and subject to a variety of attacks. The computer science community is challenged to devise solutions to these problems.

The information we seek so readily on the World Wide Web may vary in quality from completely useless or even damaging to stunningly valuable. It is our problem to determine which, although the search engines do their best to draw the most relevant to our attention. It seems inevitable that the netizens of the world will look for improvements in identifying the authenticity of the sources of online information and assurances that it has not been modified since its incarnation on the Net.

As we accumulate more information online, we may encounter a kind of ­“information decay” in which digital objects become less and less interpretable owing to the age of the software that ­created it. As an example: It is already a challenge to play the videos posted on the BBC website in 1997. Imagine trying to access the same video in one hundred years. Or in one thousand.

These are just some of the issues that we’ll have to wrap our minds around in the coming years, as technologists, indeed, but also as a society. Every year, humanity produces more information. How we choose to share it, or find it, or remember it, or interpret it are questions that are too important not to answer.

(CERF is now chief Internet evangelist at search giant Google Inc. He tested the first Internet hookups in 1969 when he was a graduate student at UCLA. Then, as a professor at Stanford University in the 1970s, he led a team that invented the protocols, known as TCP/IP, which now serve as the Internet’s basic communication tools. The topic of his paper at WCIT 2008 is "Tracking the Internet into the 21st Century.")

Among the show highlights

SOME 2,500 delegates are expected to attend the World Congress on Information Technology 2008. The congress is a signature forum of the World Information Technology and Services Alliance — a consortium of 73 IT industry ­associations that represent over 90% of the world’s IT market.

WCIT 2008 will take place at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from May 18-22.

In conjunction with the event, 13 satellite events will take place at the same venue. One of these is the International Advisory Panel meeting — an international body set up in the late 1990s to provide counsel to the Government on ­legislation and policies to develop MSC Malaysia-specific practices, and to set standards for ­multimedia operations.

There’s also the United Nations Global Alliance For ICT (information and communications ­technology) and Development conference which will discuss the “digital divide" — that gap between the technology haves and have-nots.

Plus, there is a global summit organised by Mobile Monday — a mobile industry special ­interest group — which will discuss marketing over mobile phones and other consumer-privacy issues, amongst other topics; and the World Cybersecurity Summit.

In addition to that, a technology showcase will be held at the convention centre.

WCIT 2008 is organised by the Multimedia Development Corp — custodian of the MSC Malaysia initiative — and Pikom (the Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry of Malaysia), with support from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

© Source: www.wcit2008.org.

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