sk any veteran of the Internet to name its most exciting feature, and the answer is almost invariably the same: Where it is taking us. What the future holds.
Those who have worked in this field predict that far greater things and more positive applications than any we presently have are just over the horizon.
First is the Internets size and capacity. The current 30 million users are but a fraction of the worlds population. And the technology is advancing so rapidly that in a few years, laptops and other simple computers will be so inexpensive that tens of millions more users will be on-line.
Then there is the issue of linking all those computers through the Internet. According to Internet authorities, it could handle the load of being connected to the 600 million telephones today. Work is under way by people such as Vinton Cerf, one of the Internets creators, to prepare the Internet to handle that volume, and even more.
Plans are in the works to make the Internet available through public computer stations, or kiosks, which would soon make accessing the Internet about as easy as making a call at a pay phone. Some would be equipped to service users who didnt even bring their own laptop. To the businessman, it means never being far from files or information. To shoppers, it means being able to locate merchandise or place orders from anywhere. To students, it means research can be done in Fort Lauderdale and papers sent in from Mazatlan.
But the impact of decreasing computer hardware costs and the Internet doesnt stop there. What about the ever-escalating costs of a higher education? The Internet can bring entire libraries, if not classrooms, into the home for just a few dollars a year.
Already on-line universities exist, with more to come accredited institutions which facilitate studies at home, using texts and information administered over the Internet.
Financial transactions will become easier and faster than ever before. Through digital cash products coming soon to the market, purchases can be made without giving a credit card number (exposing it to risk of theft). Instead, the purchaser transmits digitally encoded bits of information which are accepted as money by other computers, and securely buys merchandise and services, pays bills, and even pays income taxes.
As for navigating the sprawling Internet, the World Wide Web system provides a road map for locating sites of interest, or necessary for business. Work is continuing on the navigation system, and it is hoped that it will soon become the equivalent of a high-tech white pages and yellow pages.
Television is expected to soon be linked into the Internet, expanding many fold the entertainment and information possibilities. Through the TV set will come up-to-the-second stock information, transpiring news and job information. There will be movies on demand and interactive TV in which the audience participates in shows they watch.
Star Trek-style video teleconferencing where the callers see each others image while they talk on the telephone will soon move from futurist to the present. The hardware is nearly ready for marketing. Virtual reality, the whole field of equipment and programs which make possible such things as lifelike flight simulations, is also coming to the Internet for high-tech entertainment and also for instruction and training.
Information on candidates for public office is already available in California, and soon will be available for national elections as well. More revolutionary is that soon voters will be able to cast their ballots on-line from home or office. The effect on voter turn-out is expected to be enormous.
This is just a sampling of what is yet to come. Larry Crocker, involved with the Internet from its earliest days, said, The network makes it possible to have complex relationships with individuals and groups of people all over the globe. The workplace and even the home may not be the focal point of ones social interactions. Virtual corporations will come into existence on a regular basis. In short, major advances are on the horizon, and many will usher in significant changes in our lives.