News of the Ultranet
Spring, 2001

    A great deal has happened in the world of technology since the last News of the Ultranet appeared three months ago.
    For an updated smorgasboard of science news, please visit the HIQ News site.
 

    You've just gotten home from work. One of the walls in your family room is (or all of them are) dedicated to display. You say, "Athena, please see if you can reach my sister, Barbara." "Athena", your computer, says, in a slightly accented woman's voice, "Calling your sister, Barbara", and a few seconds later, the wall lights up with a full-size, 3-D image of Barbara. She says, "Hello", and you say, "Hi, sis. How did your day go?" You talk for a while, and hang up. Then you say, "Athena, what happened in the stock market today?" Charts of the DJIA, the S&P 500, and the NASDAQ composite (or whatever you've previously chosen) appear on the wall, together with a menu of news reports, your personal stock portfolio, and other options. After dealing with financial investment news, you might ask to see the regular news, both global and local. This would consist of formal broadcasts, with a freeze function, and with side menus to allow you to investigate specific topics in greater depth. Rather than being canned, the news is interactive. It might consist of a combination of human-delivered video news reports and a newspaper printed on e-paper or your notepad computer. You could also opt to have the printed matter read to you by an avatar-based cybercaster, likeAnanova. You might already have instructed the household robot to prepare supper for you, setting the table, and serving the food. After supper, the household robot might clear the table and wash the dishes. The household robot may not be built in humanoid form, but might have grippers of some type to efficiently handle the food and the dishes. It might not be very strong--just strong enough to handle the food and the dishes. When not required, it might repair to a broom closet to recharge its batteries.
   How soon is this apt to happen?
    The household robots may not be here for 20 or 30 years, but part of this fanciful scenario could probably happen right now if you wanted it. Voice-controlled computers are here now. Large-screen displays are here now. The Ananova site already offers interactive news, albeit on a small screen. However, to make this really effective, you need a wall-sized display, and you need bandwidths of 20 megabits/second or higher. Three-D images without glasses can be achieved using various techniques that have been available for decades, but so far, such displays haven't made been widely adopted. Holographic displays require teraflops computing speeds, as well as special displays. Dimension Technologies has been working for more than a decade on systems that work like those on the covers of some children's books that use a vertically striped lenticular screen that shows a different image to each eye. (My 3-D Star Trek mousepad works this way, although the Romulan Warbirds in the background are a little fuzzy.) Dimension Technologies now offers an XGA 15" LCD display for $1,700, and an SXGA 18" display for $7,000. The other current chicken-and-egg problem is that of finding 3-D content, and for webcasts, sufficient bandwidth to allow the real-time transmission of the signals to drive XGA and SXGA displays. This we probably won't see until second-generation wideband shows up later in this decade, although such data rates are achievable now on various private networks such as Internet 2. For 3-D without glasses, we may be looking at anywhere from 10 to 30 years. But eventually, I think it's bound to come. What we're experiencing right now may be akin to the early days of radio, when listeners wore earphones and twiddled with their "cat's whiskers" to hear scratchy music broadcast by station KDKA.
     In the meantime, Dynamic Digital Depth (DDD) is offering red-and-green- glasses-based, 3-D webcasts now. (They'll send you a free pair of glasses!) They also offer better, Polaroid-based 3-D. They're obviously trying to popularize 3-D over the web. Who needs 3-D? Who needs color? Glasses-based 3-D might rest upon the availability of handy, low-cost, webcam pairs that can be set up to generate 3-D files that anyone can create and broadcast.
    Dimension Technologies and DDD have recently teamed to bring 3-D to the public.
    It's all very well to fantasize about what we might have in 20 to 30 years, but how about 2005? That's no farther away than 1997.
    I could imagine that 21", 22", and/or 23" CRT displays with resolutions of 2,000 X 1,500 or 2,300 X 1,500 will be common, and will cost a few hundred dollars. Cheap, high-resolution, large screen displays could also be here by that time, although I thought that ten years ago. Third-generation wireless will probably be here by then, with early-adopters web-surfing and using videophony on their cellphone/PDA's. Wideband will probably be widespread by 2005, and it's conceivable that second-generation wideband, at 10 to 20 megabits per second, will be creeping over the hill. Some of us may begin voice-commanding our computers if that's advantageous. (Of course, that capability has been available for the past ten years, and most of us aren't using it.) Combination video/still cameras will probably be common, perhaps in PDA's. I could possibly afford Dimension Technology's 15" LCD display by then. It may be cheaper in 2005. Their 18" display might even be within reach.
     Okay. What about 2010? By this time, I would hope that we would have the wall-sized high-resolution displays, or perhaps, laser holographic 3-D displays. I would expect that third-generation, 100-to-200 megabaud wideband connections are appearing in selected locations. It's conceivable that 1 gigabaud connections might be available in schools and libraries.

Alternate routes to the Future
    Among the trends that currently seem to be developing in personal computers are:
     - More than one computer per household
     - Networking of household computers
     - One shared communications line, one shared scanner, and one shared printer for all household  computers. (This is part of the reason why networked computing makes sense.)
     - Wireless intercomputer connections, or connections through telephone outlets or electrical powerlines.
     - Internet telephony, video telephony, and voice mail.

    Among trends that might (or might not) figure in the future are:
    - A central server located in a closet, shared by household terminals and devices. The high speed communications line would come to the hidden server. (This isn't apt to be favored by computer companies, who want to sell more PC's.)
    - The incorporation of the household's TV's, video recorders, and telephones (including cellular phones, laptops, and palmtops) in this network.
    - Possibly the attachment of some appliances, such as robotic vacuum sweepers and security systems, to this network.
     - The appearance of large-screen HDTV displays, and possibly, 3-D displays.
     - The appearance of virtual reality/telepresence equipment in the home.

1. Computing

(A) Cheap, Printable Displays? Printable Computers?
      A number of flat-screen display technologies are in the wings. Two of the most intriguing are printed displays, in which display screens are printed upon paper or vinyl by modified ink-jet printers, and organic light-emitting-diode displays. The hope is for low-cost, high resolution, large-screen displays. (My display forecasts in 1991 for the year 2000 didn't fare too well. Hopefully, we'll do better with these.)

(B) The Future of Wideband Wired Internet Links
     Optical fiber capacities are doubling every year, having just hit 10 terabits/second in the lab. First-generation, 1.5 megabit/second wideband will undoubtedly continue to spread rapidly for the next years, but by 2005-2006, we might possibly expect to see second-generation, 10-20 megabaud links begin to appear for home and commercial use, with third-generation, 100-200 megabaud links possibly following by the 2010.

(C) The Future of Wireless Internet Links and Devices
     Sprint has announced that by late 2003, its third-generation digital cellular telephone system will be fully operational. By that time, it will offer 3-to-5 megabit/second data transfer rates over the Internet for palmtops, laptops, and cellular videophones. And on the home and office fronts, "Bluetooth" is to afford cheap, wideband, wireless links with a range of about 30 feet between various devices such as household appliances, portable computers, and computer accessories.

(D) IBM's Plans for a Teraflops PC
    IBM, Sony, and Toshiba have announced that by 2005, they will deliver to the consumer market a supercomputer microprocessor chip ("Deep Blue" on a chip) that will pump out one teraflops (1,000,000,000,000 floating point operations a second--flops). In the meantime, Star Bridge Systems is currently delivering a radically different kind of microprocessor capable of dispensing 100 gigaflops (100,000,000,000 flops) a second.

(E) The Grid: Collaborative Computing: Computing as a Public Utility
     One of the initiatives that promises to take hold quickly is "The Grid"--an arrangement in which computer owners share each others' idle-time computer resources. This might eventually grow into a computing utility in which people trace, or buy and sell excess computing power, to be used for applications such as virtual reality, telepresence, robotics, and other computationally demanding purposes.

(F) New News Regarding the Future of Computing
      It's now open knowledge that Intel is planning for computer chips that contain 30 nanometer features, down from 180 nanometers today. The 13-nanometer extreme ultraviolet (or soft x-ray) lithography systems that are currently in the design phase should be able to produce semiconductor chips that have features smaller than 10 nanometers, appropriate to the 2013 to 2016 era, and 18 times smaller than what we're using today. It would appear that Moore's Law is intact at least through 2010, and perhaps through 2020.

(G) A Breakthrough in Multi-Terabyte Storage?
      At the March, 2001, CeBIT trade show, two European companies, Optistor and Optilink, demonstrated laser holographic memories that store 2 terabytes (2,000 gigabytes) of data on compact media. Optistor's device stores the two terabytes in a lithium niobate crystal that measures 5 cm. by 5 cm. by 0.3 cm. Both companies will be test-marketing their devices this year.