By Dr. Cheryl Shavers
It's no secret that tomorrow's world will emerge a lot sooner than any expects. Because today's storehouse of knowledge has become so vast and complex and growth of knowledge is accelerating, advances in society are becoming increasingly dependent upon people with specialized knowledge.
One source for that knowledge is now the Internet. There are now an estimated 50 million Internet users worldwide, a million Web sites, and more than 100 million Web pages. The Internet has been adopted by U.S. consumers faster than any previous communications technology, including television, radio, and the telephone. Personal computers - the primary means of accessing the Internet today - can now be found in almost 40% of U.S. households. Colleges and other institutions are subsidizing Internet access for 37% of current U.S. users.
To support this infostructure, monumental investments in communication technology are being made to develop and enhance the information superhighways. Businesses devoted more capital spending to computer and communications hardware than to investments in factories, buildings, and other durables. Information technologies are allowing increasing numbers of people to work at home. Telecommuting and advances in video conferencing will continue to replace face-to-face business settings.
Further breakthroughs in "Infotech", such as microprocessor chips that contain 1 billion transistors, use of satellite feed as the most widespread transmission mode and optical transmission of digital signals growing to beyond 100 gigabits per second, could comprise evolutionary adaptations to changes that are brought about by new technological understanding.
The need for portability is accelerating. The number of cellular telephone subscribers worldwide jumped from fewer to 1 million in 1985 to more than 90 million currently. Researchers continue development of innovative consumer electronic devices - hand-held video phones, electronic notebooks, palm-sized computing - to usher in a cascade of communication growth. Voice recognition, voice synthesizing and voice-activated computer systems accompanied with instantaneous translation programs could significantly impact international tourism. Even credit-card sized medical diagnostic plates consisting of million of bits of information to verify diseases, deformities and dysfunctions may not be far from reach.
But as America enters a new millennium, technology's impact on people from different ethnic backgrounds, an aging society and continuing education will impose enormous demands for societal innovations.
Because immigration will continue to increase the overall U.S. population, parents, educators and politicians will continue to struggle with the question of "How can technology level the educational playing field in "objective" subjects such as math and science for students from different cultural backgrounds?
Moreover, as society grows gray new technology developments to improve the "quality of life" in areas such as in health care, transportation and self-sufficiency will spawn a new breed of enterprises that see come to see gold in gray. For example, new motor vehicle operating systems designed for people with reduced dexterity and vision, voice-activated home appliances and wearable computerized health monitors to screen key body functions and provide real-time information on diet, exercise, and stress reduction requirements are commercially conceivable.
Not surprisingly, continuing education will remain a fixed feature of Infotech's future. With scientific information doubling every five years and literature doubling every 10 to 15 years, by the time a child born today finishes college, knowledge may have quadrupled.
Notwithstanding, technology's evolutionary pathways of the past into the present are well understood, and the direction of these pathways into the future can indeed be visualized by those with the perspective, expertise - and patience to propel our society forward.