June 17, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, gazing into the high-tech crystal ball. Media Correspondent Terence Smith has our report.
TERENCE SMITH: What will the new world of technology look like in the
foreseeable future? Some leading thinkers and doers shared their vision
this week on Capitol Hill. Labeled a tech summit, it was part Congressional
hearing, part video conference --
TERENCE SMITH: -- and part show-and-tell. The nation's lead economist, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, began with an overview.
ALAN GREENSPAN: Something special has happened to the American economy in recent years. An economy that 20 years ago seemed to have seen its better days is displaying a remarkable run of economic growth that appears to have its roots in ongoing advances in technology. Innovations in information technology -- so-called IT -- have begun to alter the manner in which we do business and create value, often in ways that were not readily foreseeable even five years ago.
TERENCE SMITH: IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner called the digital age a revolution.
LOUIS GERSTNER, IBM Corporation: This is one of those technological transformations that comes along once every 100 years or so and changes all existing models in profound and permanent ways. We've seen it before-- the printing press: The proliferation of knowledge and the acceleration of the Renaissance; the automobile: A redefinition of the concept of distance, the restructuring of metropolitan communities, and the relationship between the workplace and the home.
TERENCE SMITH: Bill Gates, chairman and CEO of Microsoft, described the cyber future as he sees it.
BILL GATES: The combination of advances in telecommunications, computers and consumer electronics, using the Internet standards, will create a universe of intelligent PC's and complementary devices that will deliver the power of the information age to anyone anywhere, any time. What this means is that we'll have these smart connected devices, starting with the palm-sized device with the beautiful color screen connected up to a wireless network, to a tablet computer that you can take to a meeting, and as you do your handwriting it will recognize the notes that you are taking.
TERENCE SMITH: Marc Andreeson, chief technology advisor for America Online/Netscape, showed off the latest wireless gadgets.
MARC ANDREESON: The first demo that we're going to look at is a demo of a hybrid device called the palm pilot, and I've got one here in my hand. And in particular, there's a new version of the pilot that has a little antenna, which is a nice feature. And what that lets you do is it lets you connect to the Internet from anywhere without being plugged into the wall. So what we're looking at on the screen is a demo of accessing your AOL e-mail. We're pulling up our e-mail message. And there our spouse has sent us a message: "Marc, the party tonight starts at 9. Here are the directions." And then at bottom it says, "Try to hurry. You know how boring these things can be." Okay, that's good. This device is a small wireless pager that actually has a little keyboard on it. And if you have really small fingers, you can sit here and you can punch in messages, and you can send e-mail back and forth. I actually used this today to send a couple of e-mails a day. Also, the cellular phones that everybody carries around now increasingly have text messaging capabilities where they can send and receive e-mail messages much like this.
TERENCE SMITH: Appearing by stream video via the Internet was Scott McNealy, head of Sun Microsystems, a software and network giant. McNealy addressed the consumers' most common complaint about technology.
SCOTT McNEALY: I think a lot of computer technology has been very hard to deal with, very complicated - and for mere mortals - I mean, if you don't have a teenager in your house, it's often very difficult to install this equipment, this technology, and make it all work together. There is a big change happening as we move to a new model of computing, a new model of technology. And this is a model where you don't go out and buy your own personal mainframe, you don't go out and buy your own computer. Fundamentally, computing will be embedded in every appliance that you buy, and you will know how to work those appliances. If I give you my car keys or if you give a kid a game machine, or if you had somebody your cell phone, you don't need to hand them a manual.
SPOKESMAN: I'm anxious to hear from Chairman Greenspan and others and I'm confident -
TERENCE SMITH: But witnesses also acknowledged that the new high-tech economy has potential pitfalls. Chairman Greenspan said that while technology makes workers and businesses more efficient, productivity gains can't continue forever and shouldn't be overstated.
ALAN GREENSPAN: History is strewn with projections of technology that have fallen wide of the mark. Hence, despite the remarkable progress witnessed to date, we have to be quite modest about our ability to protect the future of technology and its implications for productivity growth and for the broader economy.
TERENCE SMITH: IBM's Gerstner argued that education is every bit as important as technology in keeping the U.S. competitive.
LOUIS GERSTNER: If there is one factor that can dead-end for the U.S. this new world of economic opportunity and prosperity, it's the deplorable condition of our system of public education. Just as surely as a high quality education or the lack can separate people, it will also separate winners and losers in the global networked economy that's coming to life around us.
TERENCE SMITH: Of course, there will be winners and losers as well among the giant corporations in the high-tech world. Microsoft is currently locked in its antitrust battle with the government, and mergers and turf battles continue to roil the industry. Nonetheless, most of the speakers urged Congress to allow the industry to grow with a minimum of regulation.