Future of the Web, Intelligent Devices, and Education
by Howard Strauss
the future cannot be done by anyone with any certainty. Most of us would
be hard-pressed to predict with any accuracy what we will be eating
for dinner a week from now. Predicting what twists and turns technology
will take is far more difficult than ascertaining our future menus,
but it is a task we all must undertake if we are to plan for tomorrow.
And planning for tomorrow is something we all must do. The future has
a way of arriving a little before we are ready to give up the present.
Having some idea of what is coming won't take all the surprise and mystery
out of the future, but at least we will be a bit better prepared.
To predict the
future, we often look at trends and make reasoned guesses about which
ones will continue and where they will lead. In essence, we accept that
the past contains the seeds of the future, which we can predict if we
can correctly read the DNA of those seeds. That is never an easy task.
For example, the
history of U.S. commercial aviation, from its inception until 1958,
reveals a steady increase in the speed of aircraft. Someone in 1958,
looking at that trend and realizing that the "new" Boeing 707 jetliner
could fly at nearly 600 miles per hour, might have concluded that fifty
years later we all would be flying three to ten times faster. But of
course we are not. Except for the Concord, on which few of us travel,
commercial aircraft fly just a few percent faster than they did in 1958.
It was not that the speed of sound was a technological barrier we couldn't
cross. Instead, an economic barrier and a sociological barrier (the
United States would not allow sonic booms over its landmass) stopped
us. These were barriers we could not have easily predicted.
In the 1930s, automobiles
were traveling at 70 miles per hour on roads ill equipped to accommodate
them. In the 1970s, cars had slowed down to 55 miles per hour on modern,
limited-access highways that could have accepted much higher speeds.
Once again, social and economic issues conspired to stop technological
Since the invention
of the vacuum tube in the mid-1870s, great efforts have been spent to
make it both smaller and more efficient. By the late 1940s, tiny low-power
tubes were commonly available. Not realizing the implications of the
invention of the transistor in 1947 at Bell Labs, a person might have
predicted that one day soon, vacuum tubes would be the size of a pencil
eraser and would consume just a fraction of a watt. It is a common trap
to look at what we have today and assume that tomorrow will have the
same thing, only better. But in the history of the world, dinosaurs
died out completely. They did not continue to evolve indefinitely into
In this article
I will look to the past for trends in hardware, software, networking,
and education and attempt to extrapolate where they are going and what
their broad implications might be. But readers should be wary. There
are many different ways that trends can be interpreted, and it is easy
to pick trends that support one's thesis and ignore ones that don't.
This article may prove to be a road map for the future; it will at least
provide some new visions of what could have been and what still might
The recent past
has been characterized by the explosive growth of the World Wide Web,
often called simply the Web. In August 1981 about 200 computers hosted
Web servers. By July 1998 there were over 36 million Web servers. Today
there are so many URLs (Web addresses) that examining them all at the
rate of one per second (an impossibly fast clip) would take over eight
years. But in truth, no one knows how many URLs there are. Lucent Technologies
estimates the number at over 830 million. If Lucent is right, our examination
of all URLs would take closer to twenty-seven years.
Today, over 150
million people use the Web. Here again, estimates are at best fuzzy.
The user count is expected to more than double each year. Elementary
math quickly shows that this trend cannot continue for very long because
the number of Web users would soon exceed the number of people on Earth.
However, I expect this trend to continue and in fact to accelerate far
into the future.
Today almost all
Web users are people. Tomorrow, intelligent devices operating on behalf
of people and institutions will dominate the Web. This will come about
because of the accelerating decrease in the cost, weight, size, and
power requirements of computer hardware, the increase in the speed of
networks, and the growing wireless infrastructure now being put in place.
In the past the
Web was used to display documents and images. Today it is being used
for education, research, software distribution, audio and video conferencing,
and electronic commerce. Commercial uses of the Web are the fastest-growing
Web sector. The .com domains make up about half of all Web domains,
with the .edu domains far behind. With billions of dollars in Web commerce
already being conducted, the Web seems to threaten the current mode
of business. How long will local bookstores remain in business when
online bookstore Web sites are doing over $2 million per day of business?
Will the layoffs at brokerage houses accelerate as more stocks are traded
online? Will any travel agents survive the ease of booking travel on
Yet the Web is
in its infancy and has yet to show us what it will do when it matures.
Today you must go to a desktop or laptop computer to use the Web. Tomorrow,
common intelligent devices that will number in the billions will routinely
use the Web, with little intervention from us.
Will Replace the Web?
There was a time
not too long ago when it seemed that everything of any importance was
in Gopher space. For those of you who don't remember Gopher, from the
University of Minnesota, it is what the Web replaced. Likewise, Gopher
had replaced dozens of CWISes (Campus-Wide Information Systems). So,
as hard as it is to believe, the Web could disappear. It hasn't so far
because it has managed to evolve, in effect replacing itself. In fact,
it has done this twice so far.
At first the Web
was just a place to display one's corporate presence. It was a glassed-in
bulletin board where everyone could read about your university or company.
You certainly couldn't interact with it, and no business of any sort
was done there. In the first reinvention of the Web, the Web became
able to support the mainline businesses of a university or company.
Universities distributed forms, allowed for electronic admissions applications,
and let students view their grades via the Web. Companies, such as UPS
and FedEx, let users track their packages via the Web. These activities
could have been done in some other way, but the Web was more convenient.
In the second reinvention
of the Web, the Web offered services that were not part of the mainline
business of a university or company. UPS for example, now offers a variety
of secure e-mail delivery services. These are services that did not
exist before the Web and could not reasonably exist without it -- or
something like it. How should universities participate in this second
reinvention of the Web? That will be left for you to ponder, but universities
must be part of this new wave.
We will not make
the leap to the Web of the future in one giant step. There are already
evolutionary signs of what is to come, if we are able to read them correctly.
But we should be careful. Some of the most wonderful developments are
actually dinosaurs that will not in fact make it to the future.
sign is a phone by BellSouth. This is a regular cordless phone, but
when it is moved too far away from its base station it becomes a cellular
phone. In the future, all intelligent devices will be wireless but will
choose the most economical way to be so, just like this phone. The Seiko
Message Watch has its own phone number and Internet Protocol (IP) address
and can monitor news, sports, weather, stocks, or whatever you'd like.
Itis a tiny, wireless, low-powered, specialized, intelligent device
that takes care of itself -- all characteristics of the devices we will
use in the future.
The Cross Pad,
from A. T. Cross Company, uses as its input device a pad on which you
place a piece of paper. You write on the piece of paper, and the pad
converts your writing to digital ink or attempts handwriting recognition.
Like devices of the future, this is a specialized intelligent device
that uses something you use every day (a piece of paper) as its input
device. Unfortunately, you need the pad to interpret what you write.
A similar device in the design stage at Carnegie Mellon University eliminates
the pad. In fact it lets you draw 3-D objects in the air.
The Toshiba Tecra
8000 laptop has everything you could wish for. It is fast. It has tons
of memory. It has a scanner. It has a camera. Its screen measures more
than 14 inches diagonally. Its battery lasts for seven hours. But it
is a mature technology, and mature technologies, like dinosaurs, get
replaced. Of course anyone would be happy to have this laptop today.
Even though it is definitely a dinosaur, it is the very best dinosaur
there is, and the critters that are evolutionarily superior to dinosaurs
have yet to appear. But they soon will, and we need to prepare for their
In 1965 Gordon
Moore suggested, in what's known as Moore's law, that the density of
transistors on a chip would double every eighteen to twenty-four months.
This implied that the cost per transistor should halve every eighteen
to twenty-four months. For over three decades, Moore's law has proved
remarkably accurate, but during that entire period many have predicted
that the trend could not continue. They said that, in effect, Moore's
law would be repealed when doubling the density of transistors on a
chip became impossible.
In fact it appears
that Moore's Law has been repealed -- not because the density of transistors
has failed to keep up with it but because developments are moving faster
than Moore had imagined, due to unpredicted technological advances.
Intel, for example, has found a way to store two bits per transistor
and thinks it may be able to store four bits on a transistor. This will
immediately double or quadruple the effective density of transistors
and cut the cost of a memory chip by a factor of two or four. IBM has
found a way to use copper instead of aluminum wiring on a chip, making
chips 40 percent faster, smaller, and cheaper. One advance after another
has continued to accelerate Moore's law, pushing this doubling time
frame toward twelve or even nine months.
The effect of this
is to make every hardware element smaller, faster, and cheaper. Disk
storage, which today costs about a dime a megabyte, will cost less than
a penny a megabyte in 2004. RAM, which costs about $4 a megabyte today,
will cost less than 40� a megabyte in 2004. One megahertz of computational
speed, which costs about 80� today, is likely to cost less than a dime
any device that can tolerate an increase in cost of a dime could become
an intelligent device. A toy, a pen, a pair of eyeglasses, a shirt,
a doorknob, a paperback book, or any common object you can image will,
in the near future, be an intelligent device that has memory and computational
abilities. Of course none of these devices will be like the general-purpose
PCs of today. They will continue to be toys, pens, shirts, or whatever
they were meant to be, but they will be "smart" versions of what they
were, and they will be able to communicate with each other.
Today most software
is bought in shrink-wrapped packages from stores that stock zillions
of titles. EggHead Software realized that having physical stores and
stocking software made no sense. It now has a virtual store on the Web.
But EggHead needs to go a step further. No one wants or needs the shrink-wrapped
packages and CD-ROMs. It is silly to send software via UPS or the U.S.
Mail when all the buyer really wants is the bits that are on the CD-ROMs.
In thefuture, all software will be obtained via networks. No physical
store will sell software.
As software delivery
shifts to the network, the paradigm for paying for software will begin
to look like that for television. Today commercial TV is free, paid
for by advertising; public TV is also free, paid for by government and
donations; and cable TV and pay-per-view TV are paid for by subscribers.
A similar model will emerge for software. First, much software will
be free, paid for by advertising. This is how most of the search engines
on the Web are paid for; likewise, the costs of numerous free e-mail
services are absorbed by marketers, who want to get their messages out
to captive e-mail users.
Second, the government
too offers some free software today. Much more will be coming in the
future. Why should we buy software to do our taxes? How long will it
be before the Internal Revenue Services offers it to us on the Web?
Third, like cable
TV, companies will soon offer software by subscription. Pay a company
a few dollars a month, and you will get the use of a basic package of
software. The software you subscribe to will always be kept up-to-date,
and new offerings will be frequently added to keep your interest (and
your monthly fees) flowing. For users who want more than the basic software
package, premium packages will offer products in vertical areas such
as finance, architecture, engineering, manufacturing, music, and so
forth. And some software packages will be pay-per-use. This will allow
you to try a package (though free trials will be the rule) or to pay
for a software package for only the actual time you need it.
Applications and Telematons
With fast, cheap,
intelligent processors and inexpensive software, many new applications
will become possible. Real-time speech recognition and translation and
conversions among speech, text, image, and audio formats will be possible.
Vision systems that allow gas pumps to fill your gas tank without human
intervention (Shell Oil is installing these now) or vans that can follow
the edges of roads (Carnegie Mellon University has an experimental van
that does this) will become commonplace. Software will also become worldly.
It will know, for example, that "Don't drink and drive" does not refer
to drinking milk.
In 1987 a group
of five Princeton students and I entered a contest, sponsored by Apple
Computer, to design the computer of the year 2000. After just a bit
of design work we decided that for Apple to succeed as a business, it
had to get out of the personal computer field and invent a new industry.
By 2000, we reasoned, the personal computer industry would be flooded
with mature technology devices that would compete on paper-thin profit
margins, nonessential gadgets, and cosmetic changes. We saw the personal
computer industry fading and a new industry, which we called the Telemation
industry, emerging. The Telemation industry would build specialized,
intelligent, communicating devices that we called Telematons.
Our design for
the computer of the year 2000 was not a computer at all. It was the
first of the many Telematons that we envisioned would be built. We called
our first Telematon the Apple PIE (Personal Information Environment).
Although the PIE was not a computer, it had great computational power.
It used its computational power to manage an information environment
appropriate for its users. It took all of the information sources --
radio, TV, CDs, the Web, books, telephones, newspapers, other PIEs --
and managed the information. It drew no line between entertainment and
education. It focused on integrating and managing information. Although
our design won second prize, Apple never built anything like it. Instead
it built Performas, PowerMacs, and iMacs, which have garnered perhaps
5 percent of the PC market. While Apple battles for a tiny share of
a mature commodity market, other companies are introducing Telematon
Why are Telematons
now being developed? A long, long time ago, memory, CPU cycles, hardware,
and software were expensive. Because ofthat, general-purpose devices
such as conventional personal computers were built. But that was a long
time ago. Every day, intelligent devices become cheaper to build, and
general-purpose devices make less sense. Telematons are special-purpose
devices that are now possible. They often have specialized input and
output devices and might not even be recognizable as computers.
An example of a
Telematon precursor is a FATS, Inc., system that is used to train law-enforcement
agents, hunters, military units, and fire-fighters. In its fire-fighting
mode, the FATS (see www.fats.com) system presents to its user a large
screen that covers an entire wall. On the screen is projected one of
many fire-fighting scenarios. Faced with one of these simulations, a
fire-fighter grabs a hose, ax, or whatever tools and equipment are appropriate
and goes to work on solving the problem.
The hose, which
has the correct weight and feel of a real hose because it is a real
hose, is actually an input device, reporting back to the system its
location, aiming point, and so forth. The screen, rather than being
static, responds to the fire-fighter's actions. Voice-detection and
voice-recognition systems also respond to his or her commands.
is placed in a realistic, interactive, real-time environment in which
to hone fire-fighting skills. No computer ever appears to be in sight.
No keyboard, screen, or mouse is ever part of what the fire-fighter
sees. The heavy hose, not a mouse, is the pointing device. The firefighter's
shouted commands and movements, not a keyboard, form the input device.
Likewise, in the
future we'll probably use dozens of computers that a visitor from today
probably wouldn't be able to recognize as such. For example, here are
a few of the numerous other Telematons imagined by the Apple PIE group.
ago it seemed crazy to imagine anyone wearing a radio or cassette player.
Today it is hard to imagine a jogger not wearing one of these or a CD
player. Tomorrow it will be hard to imagine people, whatever they are
doing, not wearing at least one Togamaton.
A Togamaton is
a Telematon that is with you all the time. You might wear it as a watch
or jewelry or carry it with you in your wallet, purse, or pocket. Togamatons
might also be part of your clothes. For input, you might talk to them,
scribble on them, or keyboard on them. Output devices would be their
own displays -- voice and video output -- or they might use your eyeglasses
as a display device. Some airline maintenance crews already use wearable
computers that display output on a lens of a pair of special eyeglasses.
What do members
of your family use as a message center? Your PC, your phone, your TV?
Of course not. They leave notes on the refrigerator. Why not have a
Refridgermaton built into the door of every refrigerator? It would be
a bidirectional e-mail, voice mail, Web page, speakerphone, and message
center located right where it would be most useful. It would also include
a UPC scanner that could keep track of what you put into your fridge,
and with Web access, your Refridgermaton could tell you what items you
are short of, produce shopping lists (and order over the Web), and create
recipes with the food you have on hand. You'd also be able to access
your Refridgermaton remotely (should I pick up milk on the way home?),
or it might call one of your Togamatons to tell you to pick up the order
the Refridgermaton placed at the supermarket. A Refridgermaton could
page your kids, remind you about birthdays, and keep to-do lists for
family members, and of course, your fridge would still keep food cold.
"Cars may visit
[the] Internet while on the interstate" (New York Times, September
19, 1997). Your car already has many computers and will have many more
in the near future. A few cars already have Global Positioning System
(GPS) navigators, cell phones, and other connections to wireless networks.
An Automaton would put your car on the Web, communicate with service
personnel, and optimize your driving experience. With an Automaton,
if you lock your keys in your car (will there still be keys?), your
Automaton -- in response to your voice -- can open your car for you.
Future of Education
With the profusion
of Telematons, or whatever the cheap, fast, wireless, intelligent devices
of the future are called, education will be fundamentally changed.
There are three
variables in instruction: the material covered; the level of mastery
of the material; and the time allocated to cover the material. Any two
of these can be constrained. The other will always be variable. For
example, if the material covered and the time allocated is fixed, then
the level of mastery will vary from student to student. This is the
model used in most classrooms today and the one that makes the least
sense. Why bother to teach if one is not interested in mastery of the
material? What does it mean when someone gets a C in Chemistry 101?
Does it mean that the person knows only 75 percent of what he or she
should have learned? If so, how do we expect this student to survive
in Chemistry 201 with students who got an A in Chemistry 101? Can this
person still be a chemist while having no knowledge of 25 percent of
basic chemistry? Do you want a doctor operating on you who got straight
C's? Making the mastery of material a variable is a compromise caused
by the economics of teaching large numbers of people. The decision that
most people should be educated makes it too expensive to ensure that
all of them are well educated.
In Plato's day,
in contrast, the material covered and the level of mastery were fixed.
The time to cover the material was variable. The only acceptable level
of mastery was complete mastery. A student received personalized, highly
interactive instruction and moved ahead at his or her own pace. One
didn't move on to the next level until the previous level was mastered.
This was accomplished using a one-on-one tutor system, with the material
and presentation tailored to each student. But this model simply isn't
affordable when hundreds of thousands of students need to be taught
thousands of different subjects. Also, whereas Plato had a good mastery
of most of what an educated person needed to know in his day, no one
tutor could do that in even a single specialized field today.
Some have thought
that technology might be able to allow us to afford to get back to the
Plato model of education, but so far these efforts have not been very
successful. TV didn't do it. Movies and slides didn't either. Even Web
courses and distance learning mostly only reduce the costs of delivering
the same old "talk and chalk" kind of instruction that was delivered
without all the new technology. Students still get C's in courses and
go on to struggle in the next course in the sequence.
continue to struggle with technology in education, TV stations have
mastered the art of delivering the evening news. Universities present
students with scholars who often have no teaching skills and use all
the multimedia features that a blackboard, awful handwriting, and chalk
can deliver. TV stations have trained actors and newsreaders backed
by worldwide news teams, graphic artists, animators, and a studio full
of support people, all ready to present the evening news to us. A five-minute
evening news piece is almost always more memorable than any number of
one-hour lectures in a classroom.
Thus, a first essential
step for universities is to adopt the "evening news" model of education,
deleting the bad features and taking the good features a step further.
Evening news plusses include the following:
- You are where
the action is live. At some point, students need to see a diagram
of a nuclear reactor (if that is what is being studied), but getting
a live tour of a nuclear reactor before seeing the details makes learning
- The evening
news uses multimedia. Using as many of your senses as possible improves
learning. And making material compelling and entertaining improves
- The evening
news brings in the specialists and pros. Doctors, lawyers, pilots,
and a host of consultants, along with numerous staff specialists such
as weathermen, sportscasters, financial analysts, and so forth, are
always on hand to provide in-depth inside information.
- The evening
news is scripted, rehearsed, polished, and checked for correctness
and good pedagogy. News is delivered by professionals who know how
to present information.
Some evening news
minuses include the following:
- There is no
- Many newscasters
are just newsreaders and have no in-depth knowledge of the subject
they are presenting.
- There is a tendency
to oversimplify and to do sound bites.
- The evening news
- Attempts at humor
and levity often fall flat or are simply distracting.
Adopting the good
features and avoiding the bad, the evening news model should throw away
grading entirely and instead insist on mastery. Everyone either gets
an A+ or gets no credit. And all students can take as long as they are
willing to take to master the material. This model should also throw
away the awarding of degrees. Students would simply get credit for whatever
work they mastered. A transcript would consist of only a list of the
material a student had mastered.
Of course to implement
this model would require a sea of Platos skilled in every discipline
offered by every college and university. Even if we could afford such
a group of Platos, no such group exists. What we need instead, and what
will soon be possible, is a software aid (running on Telematons, of
course) that I call SMILE, for Software-Managed Instruction, Learning,
The SMILE paradigm
creates a personal software mentor model. In essence, SMILE presents
a student with a personal, Plato-like tutor for all areas the student
is studying. SMILE lets every student go at his or her own pace. It
soon learns what pedagogy works best for a particular student and learns
a student's weak and strong points. It cajoles, urges, entertains, and
manages a student's education. Its presentations use the modified evening
news model described above.
exists today only as an idea, much of what is needed to produce it is
already in place. SMILE would run on a variety of Telematons -- or whatever
we want to call specialized, portable, wireless, intelligent electronic
devices. The Sony PlayStation II, for example, is a specialized device
that has a 6.2-gigaflop (one billion floating-point operations per second)
processor (about three times the speed of an Intel Pentium III). With
some wireless additions and a few accessories, it would make a fine
platform for SMILE.
Since SMILE would
use the modified evening news model, it would separate content from
presentation. Experts in a field would create and submit their content
material using a standard interface. They would worry little or not
at all about presentation. Pedagogical experts and graphic designers
would work on the material, presented interactively (over the Internet
and Internet2) to make it suitable for SMILE. SMILE would provide a
high-level API (Application Program Interface) so that common tutor-like
functions could be invoked. For example, SMILE would adjust the difficulty
of each new step depending on whether a student's progress in some area
was lagging or racing ahead. Since SMILE includes common facilities
to evaluate and track a student's progress and pedagogically sound ways
to keep a student's interest, neither content specialists nor presentation
experts need to fuss much with these aspects.
After a time, SMILE
would accumulate material on many subjects. Since SMILE's unit of instruction
is not a course but a "module," students or student advisers could link
several modules into customized courses. Even if the material comes
from many different sources and content providers (professors, graduate
students, researchers, business professionals, factory workers, etc.),
students would see a common, familiar format. Students would be able
to interact electronically with content experts, but more often they
would use the resources of SMILE itself or would useNOAH.
Allocation of Help) is an idea for a planned network service that allows
network-connected peers and specialists to provide live, interactive
help to supplement what SMILE can do. Many people on the Internet today
already field questions from colleagues. While I was writing this article,
for example, I received a question about Netscape Mail. I paused what
I was doing, ran an experiment or two, sent off my answer, and returned
to this document. NOAH formalizes and enhances this common occurrence.
Users who want to participate in NOAH register by indicating areas in
which they have expertise, their degree of expertise, and some biographical
information. They also may indicate times when they do not want to be
contacted and limits to how often they are willing to provide free help.
Any NOAH-registered person can easily indicate availability or unavailability
to NOAH on the fly. For example, users registered to NOAH but working
on tasks from which they do not want to be interrupted can make themselves
temporarily unavailable to NOAH.
When a question
is sent to NOAH, it is analyzed by NOAH, and the best-available registered
NOAH participants are sent the question. NOAH effectively chooses the
Internet experts best qualified to answer the question. NOAH might choose
to send the question to just one person or to a few. Answers flow back
to NOAH, where they are catalogued and passed on to the person asking
the question. By cataloging questions along with answers and the authors
of the answers, NOAH is often able to provide an answer from an expert
without contacting anyone at all.
NOAH requires policing
to ensure that it is not abused and that experts are in fact real experts.
Much of this can be done by users themselves, who rate the quality of
the help they receive, and by NOAH itself, which refuses to do homework
for sixth-graders. Experts who rarely provide good help, for example,
will no longer be sent questions.
Can NOAH run with
all volunteer experts? Maybe not. A number of paid professionals could
be added to the NOAH system in specialized areas. Some of these paid
online experts could be restricted to questions from specific SMILE
modules. For example Sony, running a software engineering SMILE course,
could provide NOAH experts as an extra incentive to purchase its course
instead of the one from an Ivy League university. Using this scheme,
companies and university help desks could use NOAH to replace or supplement
their existing user support.
Can we really build
a SMILE system today? Of course we can. The more troublesome problem
is the difficulty of giving up the present and forging forward into
the uncertain future.