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Technology 2001
Leebaert D. (ed), MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1991. Type: Book (9780262121507)
Date Reviewed: Aug 1 1992

These 12 original essays, ably edited, collectively point the way to the future of the gathering, analysis, and use of information. The authors are all from organizations with stakes in this future, including Intel, IBM, and Digital Equipment Corp.; these providing organizations need to understand where they are going and where they are taking us.

In his introductory chapter, Leebaert writes, “Technology 2001 is the first book in which American scientists and strategic planners writing from inside the computer and communications industry explore the future of the information age across the entire wavefront.” He also writes that “This year’s science is increasingly difficult to distinguish from last year’s sheer romance…. Our present is surely like science fiction relative to the world of our childhood.”

I suppose that we can all conjecture about how our ancestors would have coped with today’s world had they lived to experience it. Cellular phones, computers on a chip, laptop computers, and smart copiers are becoming routine to us, perhaps, but are a world away from the projections to which our parents were subjected. What would von Neumann have thought about the realization of today’s technologies still founded in his (if it was his) concept of the stored program?

The book is divided into four parts, each containing three essays. The first section, called “The Rising Sea,” pinpoints the technological essentials of the next decade--the thrusts in device development, in the manufacture of silicon chips, in scientific visualization, in supercomputing (including parallel computing), and in the increasing exploitation of microprocessing. The section ends with the statement, “Replaced with the 100-million-transistor Micro 2000, a single Touchstone system would have as many transistors as the brain has neurons. With the dream of an artificial companion that much closer to reality, it may soon become time to ask: when will we put the first brain on a single chip?”

The second section, “Wealth and Mastery,” addresses “the constant need to find the critical path through information abundance.” The three papers in this section discuss knowledge systems, networking, and the technology of online processing. “The Future of On-line Technology” claims that “Organizations will no longer be forced to choose between centralization, for tighter control, and decentralization, for faster decision-making. On-line technology will make it possible to have centralized control with decentralized decision-making.”

The third section, “Knowing What Is Known,” attempts to predict the impact of evolving imaging capabilities on our understanding. Olaf Olafsson’s essay “The Multiplier: Future Productivity in the Light of Optical Storage” should give those of us who have consistently equated increased reliability with reduced mechanical movement pause. Optical disks, he claims, have “three characteristics that are responsible for their advantages over other forms of mass storage”: large capacities, removability, and fast access due to their rotational nature. “The significance of these characteristics is that an optical disk the size of a compact audio disk can store several encyclopedias with ease.”

The final three essays, in a section entitled “Information and the Human Race,” predict the impact of computing on the future vision and achievement of the human race.

Clearly, the scope of these essays is far-reaching, as it needs to be. The essays project tomorrow by looking at today. The projection of modern technology is complemented by consideration of physical limits and then of alternative technical solutions. In the midst of all the technological wizardry, the importance of standards is given its place. Developers and designers need assurance that their new inventions will fit into an existing scheme of products.

Derek Leebaert is to be congratulated on controlling the mix of fact and fantasy and on limiting the overlap and redundancy that accompany projections of this kind. Bear in mind that 2001 is less than a decade away.

Reviewer:  Jim Hammerton Review #: CR115942
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General (K.4.0 )
User/ Machine Systems (H.1.2 )
History of Computing (K.2 )
The Computer Industry (K.1 )
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