TECH TALK: The Years That Were: 1999

From a survey in the Economist (June 24, 1999), written by Matthew Symonds:

In five years time, says Andy Grove, the chairman of Intel, all companies will be Internet companies, or they wont be companies at all. Just another example of the arrogance and exaggeration the information-technology industry is notorious for? Yes, in the sense that Mr Grove is as keen as the next chip maker to scare customers into buying his products. No, in the sense that, allowing for a little artistic licence, he is probably right.

The Internet is said to be both over-hyped and undervalued. Ask any signed-up member of the digirati, and you will be told that the Internet is the most transforming invention in human history. It has the capacity to change everythingthe way we work, the way we learn and play, even, maybe, the way we sleep or have sex. What is more, it is doing so at far greater speed than the other great disruptive technologies of the 20th century, such as electricity, the telephone and the car.

Yet, nearly five years since the Internet developed mass-market potential with the invention of a simple-to-use browser for surfing the World Wide Web, it is easy to overstate its effect on the daily lives of ordinary people. Even in the United States, the most wired country in the world, most people still lack, or choose not to have, Internet access. And even for most of those who have access both at home and in the office, the Internet has proved more of an addition to their livessometimes useful, sometimes entertaining, often frustratingthan a genuine transformation.

Wrote Newsweek in a cover story (October 11, 1999): Were at the beginning of a new way of working, playing and communicating. At Newsweek, were calling this phenomenon e-life, and its just in time. Because the day is fast approaching when no one will describe the digital Net-based, computer-connected gestalt with such a transitionary term. Well just call it life.

Business Weeks special report on 21 Ideas for the 21st Century (August 30,1999) had the Internet as one of its Ideas. Neil Gross wrote:

In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations. This skin is already being stitched together. It consists of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices, thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, EKGs, electroencephalographs. These will probe and monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies even our dreams.

Ten years from now, there will be trillions of such telemetric systems, each with a microprocessor brain and radio. Consultant Ernst & Young predicts that by 2010, there will be 10,000 telemetric devices for every human being on the planet. Theyll be in constant contact with one anotherMachines will prefer to talk at gigabit speeds and higher – -so fast that humans will catch only scattered snippets of the discussion.

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The Years That Were T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.