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Predicted Computing Megatrends Prove True

Posted on December 4th, 2015 by ScienceDude

Multimedia is the first megatrend that we will examine. Multimedia really means multiple data types or formats, not multiple media. Pragmatically, the term “multimedia” has been used to define computers with the capability to play sound and rich graphics sequences. Video and sound files are enormous relative to classical computer data. CD-ROM has been the only economical storage media and device capable of handling such files. Therefore, today’s multimedia computers all feature CD-ROM drives. I think of multimedia as computing’s attempt to mirror every form that human thought can take.

Like it? It's vaporware, silly.

Like it? It’s vaporware, silly.

Computers are, if nothing else, the best device we have found for embodying human thought. Thought is not just an invoice or an image, not just a sound or a voice. It is a process. It is algorithms. It is logic. It is insight. We can also solidify our thought processes into programs that can be repeated again and again with no wear and tear on our neurons. The demand for increasing multimedia capability will continue until computers are able to input, manipulate and output virtual realities that are indistinguishable from “real” reality.

But long before that happens, computers will be able to create virtual worlds with rich human sensory inputs that have before only been experienced in dreams and imagination. Some day we may indeed experience “Star Trek’s” Holodeck and more. Does this sound like the stuff of science fiction? So did today’s computers just before the turn of the last century. The other two computing megatrends, connectivity and mobility, are so close to being equally the second most important that I could argue either way. Let’s look at connectivity first. Our need to be connected with each other and with information systems and databases has spawned enormous markets for computer-based communication products and services including: E-mail, voice-mail, servers, LANs, WANs, intranets, Internet and wireless NICs with all the necessary datacom paraphernalia from satellites to RJ-45 jacks not to mention countless versions of driver software.

Most of us, if we or our company could afford it, would choose to be connected most of the time that we are using our computer. At other times we might use our computer just so that we could be connected. We would want not only to be connected within our own organization, but also to the Internet as the gateway to the rest of our world, and to information services that we use frequently. We would want to be connected while at work, at school, at home, on airplanes, in hotels, in meeting rooms and even in between.

In a perfect IT world, we would roam carefree between wired and wireless connections, never worrying about costs or cables. All this so that we could work, learn and play together without restrictions of space, time or form. With the World Wide Web and other Internet applications, our expectations for connectivity are being redefined at amazing speed and with delightful imagination. The Web phenomena happened because connectivity creativity landed in the hands of individuals and small groups. It has not required enormous capital investment by those who would innovate applications. It has not been controlled. The last time such an outrageously enchanting usurpation of technology occurred was with the personal computer.

As PC applications have enriched human horizons, so will the Web. I don’t see the Web as replacing the PC as some would hope. Rather, I see the Web exploding because of, and on top of, PCs. I see the Web as enabling exponential experimentation on top of PCs, which have been and will continue to be exponentially innovative.

At the same time we need to be connected within rich, shared information environments such as those that are being born today on the Web, we also need to create alone and to communicate from unlikely places. The office or even home where our high-speed datacom lines reside are but restrictive subsets of where we want to create or communicate. Thus the need for mobile PCs. Mobile PCs such as notebook computers and PDAs are computers that we are willing to lug because they are worth their weight in the computing and communication applications that they enable. Mobile PCs are a fundamental need for those who have developed a rich relationship with their PC. Where we want to think, create, learn or engage in digital play, we want our PC no matter where we are.

Others have such a strong need to communicate in their digital world that they carry a mobile PC for just that purpose alone. Mobility is enabled by smallness of size, lightness of weight and long-life battery power, each of which must be balanced with the desire for a usable PC featuring a keyboard and display as nearly like that of a desktop PC, which has set our expectations, as possible. This balancing act is both the designer’s nightmare and opportunity.

Today we carry our mobile computers. With handheld personal computers (HPCs) enabled by Microsoft’s Windows CE, we will pocket them. In the not-too-distant future we may wear them as badges, jewelry, glasses or hearing aids. The multimedia and mobility megatrends are in a somewhat paradoxical relationship. The more types of data a mobile computer can handle, the bigger and heavier it must be. In this tension great mobile PCs with sound and video have been born. And, in this same tension, glaring mistakes have been made in the creation of products that were too heavy or too costly for their market window.

The connectivity and mobility megatrends are also in a paradoxical relationship. How can one be connected while moving around? From the interaction and conflicts in the relationship of these two megatrends have sprung myriad connectivity options for mobile computers. PCMCIA grew in this crack. Datacom companies have invested huge sums in wireless datacom in the belief that if we are mobile we will want to be connected even more than we do when we are stationary. Mobile datacom companies point to the cell phone market as proof that customers will pay more and put up with intermittently usable, less than universal coverage, services. They are spending billions finding that extrapolating the truths of the cell phone market to datacom may be a mistake, at least in the short term. Multimedia is also at odds with connectivity. Being connected with text and numbers is one thing, but being connected with live duplex video is quite another in bandwidth requirement and cost. There are those who believe that multimedia will bring the Internet to its knees in a prayer for infinite, free bandwidth. I am not among them. Why are we so obsessive in our desire for multimedia, connectivity and mobility? Products and services in these three computing areas have grown and are growing in ways that surpass anything that we simply “need.”

I believe that there are two fundamental human desires that are so great that we will never have enough. One is to create. Viewed from afar, the creations of humans are not in every topsy-turvy direction. Rather, we are building an external world that reflects our true internal nature, both individually and collectively. Through the external world that we are creating we are mirroring and exploring ourselves.

The other unquenchable human desire is to collaborate. To work and play together. Togetherness enables the ultimate creativity. Many limit the definition of IT-assisted collaboration to the realtime interaction of people with other people using IT environments such as telephone and videoconferencing.

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