Freesteel Blog » Harnessing the prediction of the Internet

Harnessing the prediction of the Internet

Monday, March 15th, 2010 at 8:07 pm Written by:

Found in the bookshelf in the Kerrara Bunkhouse (on Kerrera Island, opposite Oban, Scotland), one National Geographic issue Vol. 156, No. 4, October 1979, bearing the article Harnessing Light by a Thread (Allen A. Boraiko). [their ancient publications interface somewhat poor].

Here is the relevant text from the article:

In Chicago, engineers show me a control panel in one of the country’s busiest telephone exchanges. Among all the lights, meters, and levers that crowd the panel, one switch in particular intrigues me. Throw it, and you instantly transfer hundreds of calls from a bulging, overloaded copper cable to a single pair of glass fibres, each as fine as a human hair. Sealed in protective plastic, the two glass “wires” can carry 672 simultaneous calls, transmitting the in streams of coded light pulses.

And at a community computer center in a suburb of Osaka, Japan, I join a schoolboy for a push-button Japanese lesson. Seated at a television set, the youngster taps a keyboard to conjure up sketchs of a man, a house, and an apple tree. Each drawing is followed by its kanji, or calligraphic character. As the boy drills, a computer relays the lesson over a fine glass fibre to the television screen. Since my visit, cables of glass fibers have been laid to carry such computer services directly into local homes.

Significantly, fiber optics is moving into television broadcasting. In New York City fiber-optic cable connects a microwave antenna of Teleprompter Manhattan Cable TV with a television center beaming programs to more than 20,000 subscribers. A similar link servers 34,000 custoimers near Hastings, England. These systems are but one step from providing revolutionary new two-way home-communication services.

Home Computers Wired to the World

At Higashi Ikoma model town outside Osaka, Japan, that step has already been taken. There Japan’s Ministery of International Trade and Industry has opened Hi-OVIS (for Highly Interactive Optical Visual Information System), a computer and transmission center linked by fibre-optic cable with 158 local homes.

When I visited Hi-OVIS, managing director Dr. Masahiro Kawahata was watching a wall full of television monitors, each carrying a different program available to any home wired with optical fibers.

I asked how many channels Hi-OVIS could accommodate.

“As many as you like, and some of them two-way, too. You can shop by television at local stores or tune in commercial broadcasts, stock-market quotations, train and plane timetables, or a weather report. A hand-held keyboard lets you tap out answers to questions in televised home-study courses; a computer checks your replies to speed up or slow down the course material in step with your learning ability.

“The Hi-OVIS syste is almost infinitely expandable,” explained Dr. Kawahata. “The immense signal-carrying capacity of a few optical fibers makes it possible to provide many more — and more sophisticated — services that could ever be handled by a like amount of copper wire.”

In time, Hi-OVIS is expected to enable its users to make and prepay restaurant, theater, and travel reservations; receive newspapers over a home telecopier; and remotely control household heating and cooling, lights, and appliances. It may one day provide instant and two-way visual access — over optical fibers — to hospitals, libraries, and even to city hall.

Scientists Sees Chances in Life-style

When will these fiber-optic innovations reach the average home? I asked Morris Tenenbaum, vice-president of Bell Telephone Laboratories, who cautioned that “fiber optics must not only outperform copper wire and cable but must also provide services people can afford and really want.”

More optimistic is Dr. Charles K. Kao, a vice-president and chief scientist at International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation and the first to suggest optical fibers for communication. “I think people will need what fiber optics has to offer,” he told me, “and in getting it, we’ll see fiber optics produce major changes in the way we live and work, perhaps by the year 2000.”

As far as I’m concerned, this whole damn internet show is outlined there, in 1979. Pretty much as we got it. Even the terminology: Hi-OVIS was run by the New Media Development Association, which began in 1972.

There are no roving Artificial super-Intelligences rampaging around in a 4D virtual reality in Dr Kawahata’s story. Nor have their been in reality.

This means that the failure of Science Fiction to create any yarns relevant to the form the internet actually manifested itself as is even more inexcusible. Shame that nice William Gibson man didn’t take take seriously his old adage “The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed”, and really exercise his creative abilities, instead of falling for all the usual cliche’s and SF pulp pap.

The only bit we haven’t got yet are the “remotely control household heating and cooling, lights, and appliances.”

Our building systems are still so primitive and out of date, you cannot believe it. Why can’t I see and control how much gas my house is burning from a web-widget on my computer?

What does all this say about the future?

It says that all the technology that will be deployed around the world in 30 years time, probably exists on the ground somewhere today.

Oh dear.

If you were hoping that some new energy technology that can’t be found anywhere in the world today was going to save our butts before we fry, then you will be in for a disappointment.

Inventions are almost always ahead of their time. This is a fact of life.

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