What's Next for the Net

At the next session on my AAAS Meeting agenda, What's Next for the Net, the speakers talk fast. Really, really fast. Alvin and the Chipmunks fast. And somehow this seems Important, as if in all their deep thinking about the future of the internet, what they've really discovered is that speaking aloud is hopelessly slow and old-fashioned--that opening our mouths and vibrating our vocal chords will soon be as obsolete as the floppy disk, as quaint as the phonograph. That soon we'll be Tweeting straight into each others' brains and won't that be grand.

But back to what the speakers are actually saying. Irwin Jacobs, co-founder and former chairman of Qualcomm ("Leave your cell phones on!" he says) sees cell phones tracking and transmitting patient health information to doctors via sensors implanted in the body. He sees cell phones replacing credit cards in our wallets. It was pretty weird carrying those little plastic cards around anyway, he says.

KC Claffy, of the San Diego Supercomputing Center, is thinking about how the internet is regulated--or rather, how it isn't. Though telephones and the internet are melding into a single messy tangle of data, she points out that telephones have always been strictly regulated, but when the internet came along, the government took the opposite tack. What started out as a friendly way for the DARPA folks to share files has grown wildly beyond its original purpose, but its underlying framework remains unchanged--full of security holes and running out of addresses

Next up: Lee Rainie, who asks us not to tweckle him. Rainie is director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which is out with a brand new expert survey on the future of the internet. So, what is the future of the internet? That's what we all came here to find out, right? It turns out that if the experts agree on nothing else, they agree on this: They don't know what's next. They've been wrong so many times in the past, they hesitate to guess. They think is has something to do with location based services, ubiquitous sensors, and speech recognition.

Nothing about brain-to-brain Tweeting. Phew.
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