Our nation’s computer and communications infrastructure is driven by exponentials: it’s on steroids. Every aspect—the microprocessor, bandwidth and fiber, disk storage—are all on exponentials, a situation that has never happened before in the history of infrastructure. For example, NCSA’s first Cray X-MP, purchased in 1986, cost $8 million, had its own electrical line to the Illinois Power substation, had special cooling, and had absolutely no graphics. It was connected to other supercomputers by the first National Science Foundation (NSF) network backbone with a capacity of only 56 Kb/s. A child’s video game, such as a Nintendo‐64, has a MIPS microprocessor with roughly the same computer power as an X-MP processor and is available today for $149 from any discount store. It uses 5 watts, instead of 60,000. It has incredibly interactive three-dimensional graphics. Those who have 64 Kb/s ISDN in their homes have as much computer power and bandwidth as each of the five NSF supercomputer centers in the nation did only 12 years ago.
This situation is not like anything in history. So, while we look back on history to get some guiding principles, we need to be a little humble in the face of what we are launching. Computational grids are going to change the world so quickly that were not going to have much of a chance—on a human time scale, political time scale, or social time scale—to react and change our institutions. Therefore, there will be a lot of sound and fury, a lot of angry people, and a lot of controversy.