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Close the Millennium with a visionary look the beyond the year 2000
Edited Highlights of a talk by Professor Peter Cochrane at the turn of the last century.

Professor Peter Cochrane is the Co-Founder of ConceptLabs CA, Ex Head of Research and Chief Technologist for BT,, an international writer, broadcaster, educator, and consultant to a broad range of international companies. He is often referred to as the UK's most holistic and unusual thinker who lives the future rather than trying to predict it. Peter is involved with Artificial Life and Intelligence, Visualisation, Humanised Interfaces, as well as the raw technologies of fixed and mobile networks. Peter has been employed as a major agent of change across a broad front of technology, management, operational and working practices.
Peter is a highly respected visionary speaker on the Superhighway, Information Society and a host of other vitally relevant matters in today's technological world.

A Future of Man, Woman and Machine
Peter Cochrane, ConceptLabs CA

By the year 2025 there will be more machines online than vertebrates on this planet, and we will become the insignificant communicators in a mere decade. But should we feel threatened when it is our technology that has allowed us to understand and do more. It is the building of that better microscope, telescope, and model that allowed us to enhance our intelligence. We are no longer competing for survival with other species, but we are competing with the machines...

There are thousands of people with cochlea implants - integrated circuits embedded on the inner ear to restore hearing. So people are now walking streets that are, to all intents and purposes, cyborgs, part human and part machine. Respiratory stimulators, pacemakers and artificial hearts are now commonplace. This is all extremely crude and a first step in a direction that we may wish to sustain, and includes the inherent ability to remotely monitor peoples health at all times.

As we are go into the 21st century some people will choose to have transponders fitted under their skin. These devices are carrying our entire bank balance, passport, driving licence and medical records. Those who reject this technology may then rapidly become are part of a sub-species (homo-ludditus) to will be sidelined by people who rapidly subsume technology and use it to full advantage...

In 1946 people would wait in line to watch an A-movie, B-movie, cartoons, travelogue and Pathe news. They would do this three times a week, but we don'tů..we have become besotted by the instant gratification of the small screen and get irritated by a few seconds delay...

I have a 100Mbit/s LAN, a 280Gbyte server and a 1.5Mbit/s Internet feed in my home. Can you imagine what my children complain about? "Dad, when are we going to get some serious bandwidth around here?" And they are absolutely right! Our physiological limit is not 100Mbit/s, it is over a 1Gbit/s, and until we get Gbyte feeds we are going to be dissatisfied...

For millennia our species have sat in front of the fire of an evening and watch the flames. Over the last 50 years we have sat in front of the TV, and it now seems there has only been marginal increase in the information content. But Digital TV is about to change everything. It is not about a better picture and better sound, it is about being able to record and capture and buy everything that comes on the screen. It is about being able to interact with a network at large...

We have now a world where all the values are turning upside down. We now see Lara Croft selling Lucozade - an artificial human being replacing the real thing. Only five years ago computer generated people were crude, but not anymore. And when you think of computing power doubling every year; so 20 years from now they will be a million times more powerful, and in 30 years a billion times, we will soon have artificial people better than the real thing...

Copyright is a concept coined by monks with quill pens and parchment, but in a world dominated by bits and networks it has no future - the bits will always find away of escaping or being accessed. So the future is about access right not copyright...

Why do governments, administrations and managers have trouble with all of this? Because it is happening faster than anything we have seen ever before. A new mind-set is required to contemplate the death of geography and distance, with assets fluctuating faster than ever before. Everything is now information intensive, with chaos the natural mode. People are only just beginning to realise that the atoms have being sidelined and the bits are starting to rule. The time to industrialise was actually very short. The time to create an information economy was a mere 15 years in the USA. We will do it in Europe faster because we are able to learn from their mistakes. In this world it is worth remembering that experience is only a relevant parameter when the paradigm is very static. If you are mining coal, creating oil or manufacturing cars - no problem, but if you are going to move into the dotcom space almost everything that you learned and hold true is irrelevant...

Why do I go to my office? Not to work - but to be interrupted! I have to work on aircraft, in cars and hotels, and I go home to work. I go to my office to be with people to interact. The way we work and achieve change is now very different than just 20 years ago when an employer might have lasted for 50 years, a job for 15, and education may last 20years. Today most employers are lasting around 10 years. Employment is lasting around 5, and education in science and technology - you will be lucky if it lasts 5 or 7 years. But worse is to come, it will get faster, and we have to rethink the way in which we work and live. We have already created a two-class-society...those who spend huge amounts of time to save a little bit of money, and those who spend any amount of money to save a little bit of time...

Moore's Law is an astonishing trajectory that sees technology doubling in power every year. And this will continue for at least another 20-30 years with what is in the laboratory now. To quote Richard Feynman, "There is plenty of room at the bottom." We have not done anything significant yet with our integration or indeed our knowledge of the quantum world, and when we do, we will find it to be very different.

Around about 2003 the Internet will eclipse the phone network, and around 2013 it will eclipse the GDP of this planet. How? Economists continue to erroneously calculate the GDP on the basis of goods and services delivered. It should be calculated on the basis of an entropic measure of value. That car you might have purchased in 1950 does not resemble in way shape and form that car that you will purchase today. It will use half the weight of materials and provides you with a 1000 fold performance. Nor does that GDP-figure take into account the trade in bits...

The average American girl has 5 Barbie dolls, and the next generation are going online. Ergo, soon there will be more Barbie dolls online than Americans. How come? The cost of chips will go down by at least an order of magnitude and will be like digital confetti - in everything and everywhere. Today there are well over 20 billion machines on this planet and only 6 billion of us. Over 40% of all network traffic is machine to machine and does not involve humans. By the year 2010 95% of all the traffic on this planet will be between machines and will not include you and I. We will become the insignificant communicators..

The telephone network of old coped well with a world that was random. People making 3 or 4 phone calls per day at random times for 3 or 4 minutes duration resulted in a peak to mean ratio of traffic of about 3 or 4:1. But in the chaotic world the Internet the peak to mean ratio is over a 1000:1. The only systems that can cope with chaos are very low and flat, essentially without hierarchy, able to solve problems and make decisions quickly, and able to adapt to change. This is bad news for governments with 35 layers of management and companies with 7 or more. Companies we have no choice - they either delayer or die.

The really bad news about this chaotic Internet world is that death comes rather fast and often from an unexpected direction..

Imagine every barcode being replaced by a transponder. It would do so much for logistics and quality control at every level of society. Take retail for example. You find jacket, but the trousers don't fit and you walk out of the store - no purchase. But supposing the shopkeeper could tell you that the trouser that really will fit you were available in a store 300 miles away and he could guarantee that they were delivered to your home by FedEx the next morning. Then you would make a purchase.

Image that deep pan pizza with a transponder. You put it into the microwave and the microwave says. "What are you?" It replies: "I am a pizza." The microwave says. "How long would you like me to cook you?" and it says; "three and a half minutes." Think about it, why would you want to read what is on the box and take important decisions on burning food?

A world with chips in everything will also destroy the insurance industry. If someone decides to steal my VHS I just wait for them to plug it in I will find it online, and so will the police!

The chip cost of your car is now greater than the metal cost. Soon the software cost will be greatest, and will include a hard drive so you can download music as you download atoms - gasoline! Computer games and videos straight into your car so you can take them home and upload into your home net. So much for CDs and tapes! I carry 2400 MP3 music tracks on my laptop, and all ripped from my CD collection. If only I could buy just the 3 or 4 tracks per CD that I really like instead of wasting money and storage space on things I never listen to.

Let us now examine a growing threat to the telcos. Supposing we live in a community and we go down to a store and buy small radio units (WiFi - 802.11) for $300 and nail them to the side of our homes. The antenna is omni directional and transmission ranges near 500 metres at a bit rate of 11Mbit/s. A unit starts transmitting in a random fashion and the signal spreads across this network hopping box to box throughout the neighbourhood. Gradually it searches out and finds a route to the Internet. This is all without a network company or any central control.

Suppose we now extend this principal to people. A lady is out in the country and wants to send a message from a low power communicator built into her jewellery. But she is out of range for any radio system as the device only transmits 15m. Sooner or later someone passes by, picks up her message, and continues transmitting until they get into a neighbourhood where there are terminals available. At that point the message starts to go on its way and it will now hop human-to-human, building to building, device to device. It could be that this lady is in a bit of a hurry and she wants her message to the other side of the world the pretty quick and she is prepared to pay for a uplink to a satellite to get there.

Who survives in all of this?

"Not the strongest, not the most intelligent but the most responsive to change."

Charles Darwin

A very astute observation from only two generations back, from a man working with nature who could not have imagined how prophetic those words would be in a world so technologically different to his.

We have to be the most responsive to change.

So here are a few messages to take remember for the 21st Century.

  • The bits rule the atoms
  • There will be more things than people online
  • Chaos is the natural mode
  • Hierarchies don't work
  • Death comes as a surprise - and from a unexpected direction
  • Don't underestimate the opportunities!