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The San Diego Union-Tribune

 

New, Pivotal Tech Revolution in the Offing?

May 12, 2012

By Mark P. Mills

It’s a presidential election year. The economy is limping along. Real estate and the job market are terrible. Graduates are despondent. The big innovations that changed the world over the past several decades are behind us. Sound familiar? Welcome to America in 1980.

Not a soul imagined then that technology would ignite two decades of torrid growth creating hundreds of new companies and millions of jobs for everyone.

Back to the future. Things have stalled from the one-two punch of 9/11 and the ’08 financial collapse. Big tech changes are history. But if you step back, the patterns clearly show we’re at another pivotal tech revolution, identical in character to that of 1980.

When Ronald Reagan was elected, the technological revolutions were ostensibly history too. In just 30 years the world had gone from vacuum tubes and copper wires to transistors and fiber optics; from the first trans-Atlantic phone cable to communications satellites and fiber optics. Wired communications speeds rose 10 million-fold.

From 1950, when Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild, to his 1980 victory, America vaulted from Univac’s vacuum-tube computer to IBM 370 mainframes, Computer speeds rose 1,000-fold while computing costs collapsed 10,000 fold.

By 1980, software had risen from mathematical musings to an industry meriting an employment line-item in the Census. No bank, business or university worth its salt was without a computer. By 1980 we were deep in the Age of Central Computing. To paraphrase a ’60s icon: "Holy smoking mainframe, Batman." What could possibly come next?

Let’s call it the age of Distributed Computing. Companies like Apple, AOL, Microsoft, Oracle, Intel arose from the pre-1980 technology advances. These innovators and others like them would never have made a government list then if there had been federal job-stimulating handouts. In 1980, bureaucrats would have looked to dominant businesses like Wang, Digital Equipment, Burroughs. All have since evaporated.

So sitting here in 2012, consider this fact: Compute-communicate technologies have advanced even more over the past three decades than they did from 1950 to 1980.

The numbers: Computing speeds are up 200,000 times since 1980, while costs collapsed 1 million-fold. We’ve seen the emergence of wireless networks, with speeds up 1 million-fold and bandwidth costs down 100-fold.

It’s right in front of us. This scale of change is unprecedented. More is coming. As with the previous tech cycle, we are entering uncharted territory, this time into the era of Distributed Supercomputing.

Supercomputering is what you tap into on an iPad using Facebook, an iPhone using Siri Voice, an Android using Google Maps or a doctor using mobile analytics. The world is evolving into a network of enormous supercomputers – the "Cloud" emerges, already comprised of tens of thousands of unimaginatively named "data centers," any one of which has trillions of times the compute power of old mainframes or modern laptops.

That supercomputing is accessible nearly anywhere via "fat" wireless networks lacing the world. Anyone can access computing capability thousands of times more powerful than secret 1980s military programs. What does this portend? No one can guess. That’s the point. But it will be huge.

Consider: There was no market research in December 1980 when Apple went public that pointed to a pent-up demand in elementary schools for computers. Similarly, no one in 1990 foresaw demand for pocket-size devices to send messages and pictures, play games, take and watch videos. Now no one foresees what distributed supercomputing unleashes.

Steve Jobs famously said he didn’t look at what customers said they wanted, but invented what he believed customers should want. Hence Apple and many similar companies blossomed from the fecund Valley of Silicon, all doing something different with the radical technology.

And Reagan’s role in all that, back then? His magic sauce was that he stuck to his campaign promise to "get government out of the way." A tsunami of jobs followed, which subsequent Presidents Bush 41 and Clinton were wise enough to let smoke through to Y2k.

When in 1985, Reagan awarded Jobs and Wozniak the new National Medal of Technology & Innovation, he cited President Hayes’ quip about the first telephone: "An amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one?" Exactly. He got it. Who could guess?

The rise of Distributed Supercomputing is big, bigger than previous cyclical tech booms. Let’s hope the next president and those following get out of the way. For college grads, real change is afoot.

Original Source: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/may/12/tp-new-pivotal-tech-revolution-in-the-offing/

 

 
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