Silicon Insider: The Next Billion

Adapted from a speech given last week at the graduation of the Information Resources Management College at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

High-tech may seem pretty quiet these days, still shaking off the shell shock of the dot-com bubble and its subsequent bursting. But one thing history teaches us is that when tech seems most quiet on the surface it is usually just about to erupt once again. That's because, when things are the most quiet, corporations use the time to drive research forward, and entrepreneurs take advantage of the lull to start new companies and chase new dreams.

And that is just what's been happening out there in the technology world. And there are just enough clues out there -- a new communications initiative at Intel, an impending new operating system from Microsoft, a powerful new game player from Sony, chip design breakthroughs at IBM, a burst of new venture capital investments -- to let you know that powerful forces are at work underground. The fruits of these initiatives -- new products, new services and new markets -- will begin to emerge in the months ahead, turning the current tech mini-boom into a full-blown tech blast next year.

But, though that represents hundreds of billions of dollars in new business, this is only the little stuff. Even bigger forces -- technological, cultural and demographic -- are at work … and they portend radical changes in our world and how we live it.

Let me give you an example. You may have read a few weeks ago about how Google, the world's hottest search engine company, had quietly cut a deal with a half-dozen major university libraries around the United States and in Great Britain to digitize the works in their collection. An interesting story. But what you don't know about is a larger initiative emerging among those schools, led by the Bodelian Library at Oxford, to take this massive new database and create what it is calling the "Library of the Future." I happen to be part of that project, and I'll tell you where it's headed: to make every book, journal and report in the world available to every person, anywhere and at any time.

Ambitious, eh? But not impossible. Not anymore. Not with those millions of miles of dark optical fiber that was wrapped around the world during the last boom getting lit up at last. And not with processor companies like Intel announcing that they will put wi-max wireless communications technology on every chip they make in the years to come. Wi-Max, as may know, is the big brother of the wi-fi wireless communications you encounter these days in places like Starbucks. The difference is that, instead of a few yards, Wi-Max can carry broadband up to 75 miles. And that means very soon, the entire world, from the bottom of the Dead Sea to the summit of Mount Everest, will be one gigantic wireless hot spot.

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