Machines Will Be Main Web Users, Says Negroponte

The next two years will see a significant shift from people being the primary users of the Internet to an increase in machines talking to machines. There will be "more Barbie dolls connected to the Internet than Americans in the near future," said Nicholas Negroponte, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.

Speaking in Singapore last week, Negroponte said machines will be able to produce language, understand language, and will be connected to the Internet to perform more intelligent functions. The bar codes that can be found on most things today, for example, will become interactive. In the future, people will be able to swallow a computer, have it monitor information that will be stored in a black box, and simply show the doctor the black box when they visit a clinic, he said.

And to drive these developments, the cost of computing will have to come down. Negroponte sees sub-US$100 computers coming into the picture soon -- not the emergence of special purpose devices which he describes as "a misguided trend", but fully working PCs. In a wide-ranging presentation, Negroponte also shared his views on:

-- the digital divide: the digital world in the near future will be dominated by the developing world, which will take on a more creative role in terms of technology and economic applications, he said. Currently, however, the worst telecommunications infrastructure happens to be the most expensive, Negroponte said. He pointed out that in the 100 poorest countries in the world, telecommunications, especially long-distance phone services, is often a key source of hard currency and government is loath to contain telecommunications costs.

"You have a disjuncture that is quite tragic. What I would like to see is the telecommunications cost structure of developed countries apply to developing countries," he said.

-- 3G auctions: "In Europe, there has been a lot of movement into 3G wireless, most of which I think is misguided. The way the auctions have unfolded, especially in the United Kingdom and Germany, has created absolutely unworkable economic conditions (for 3G deployment)," said Negroponte. 3G technologies are not good enough yet, he said. And the speed at which companies are being compelled to move makes the technology even less ready, he added. "I don't think it will play out very happily."

-- Asian corporations: Asian corporations are too introverted. They need to keep a finger on the pulse of what goes on outside. One way of doing this is to set up a fund of, say, $30 million to $50 million for early-stage start-ups, and to regard this as a learning experience for a corporation. "Research is what keeps a company moving forward," he said.

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