70pc of world’s population online in the next decade, says net’s founding father

26 Sep 2008

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The internet of the future will be both visible and invisible, managing everything from power grids to videoconferencing droids and ensuring your house has enough washing powder, one of the founding father’s of the internet, Vint Cerf, has predicted.

Cerf said that in the next 10 years, some 70pc of the world’s population will be online as the internet becomes a network of things ranging from washing machines and fridges to scientific blogs that write themselves.

Just celebrating 10 years of existence after two students Sergey Brin and Larry Page maxed credit cards trying to buy enough servers to turn their Stanford college project into a business, Google is undergoing a transformation of its own, from an online search engine to a number of things.

The search giant this week saw its first Android mobile phone operating system launched on an HTC phone on T-Mobile’s network, while the company is beginning to spread its reach into the large enterprise and SME business software world.

Cerf, who played a leading role in the creation of TCP/IP, and who is currently internet evangelist at Google, has predicted that the internet will spread to a whole multitude of devices, and in fact could be invisible but surrounding us.

“Many of the things on the internet, whether mobile or fixed, will know where they are, both geographically and logically,” Cerf wrote in a blog post about the future of the internet. “As you enter a hotel room, your mobile will be told its precise location, including room number. When you turn your laptop on, it will learn this information as well – either from the mobile or from the room itself.”

He said it will be normal for devices, when activated, to discover what other devices are in the neighborhood, so your mobile will discover that it has a high-resolution display available in what was once called a television set.

“If you wish, your mobile will remember where you have been and will keep track of RFID-labelled objects such as your briefcase, car keys and glasses. ‘Where are my glasses?,’ you will ask. ‘You were last within RFID reach of them while in the living room,’ your mobile or laptop will say.”

Cerf said the internet will transform the video medium as well, evolving TV programming from a scheduled structure to a situation where choice of content and advertising will be directly under the control of the consumer.

“Product placement will become an opportunity for viewers to click on items of interest in the field of view to learn more about them, including but not limited to commercial information. Hyperlinks will associate the racing scene in Star Wars I with the chariot race in Ben Hur.

“Conventional videoconferencing will be augmented by remotely controlled robots with an ability to move around, focus cameras and microphones, and perhaps even directly interact with the local environment under user control.”

According to Cerf, the internet will also become more integrated with our daily lives. This could range from fridges ordering new food supplies, to the internet being used to harness energy consumption and energy production.

“Power distribution grids, for example, will become a part of the internet’s information universe. We will be able to track and manage electrical power demand and our automobiles will participate in the generation, as well as the consumption of electricity. By sharing information through the internet about energy-consuming and energy-producing devices and systems, we will be able to make them more efficient.

“A box of washing-machine soap will become part of a service as internet-enabled washing machines are managed by web-based services that can configure and activate your washing machine.

“Scientific measurements and experimental results will be blogged and automatically entered into common data archives to facilitate the distribution, sharing and reproduction of experimental results. One might even imagine that scientific instruments could generate their own data blogs.”

Cerf said we are really at the beginning of understanding how the internet will serve us in the future, and quaintly describes the internet as we know it as a “software artefact”.

“As we have learned in the past several decades, software is an endless frontier. There is no limit to what can be programmed. If we can imagine it, there’s a good chance it can be programmed.

“The internet of the future will be suffused with software, information, data archives and populated with devices, appliances and people who are interacting with and through this rich fabric,” Cerf concluded.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Vint Cerf, one of the founding father’s of the internet and currently internet evangelist at Google

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com