Computer Village

Voice Card  -  Volume 12  -  Paul Card Number 8  -  Thu, Jan 25, 1990 9:08 PM

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Note 14.0 Possible Computer Integration of today's Society 12 replies HPSCAD::DDOUCETTE "The Practical Technocrat" 338 lines 27-FEB-1989 21:13

A Change of Ages

Copyright (c) 1988 David P. Doucette

In the future, your automobile is going to be replaced by a computer.

Over the past decade or so the computer has become irreplaceable for conducting business in our modern society. The next step for the computer is to become irreplacable for the citizens of our society by providing functions and capabilites cheaper or previously impossible. There are many inventions in our society that are currently irreplacable such as the automobile, television, telephone and stereo. Of these, the most expensive is the automobile. If certain operations can be preformed cheaper using the computer instead of the automobile, such as accessing data over a public data network instead of driving to a public library, then people will use the computer instead of the automobile. By examining how the automobile fits into our society, we can predict where and how the computer will replace it.

Take a close look your automobile, and then look at the infrastructure society has created to assist you driving down the road. There are millions and millions of miles of paved roads providing a smooth bed which allows you to cruise at high speeds in comfort. The coordination of public works and automotive performance has reached an unprecedented level of effectiveness in moving people. The automobile has proven to be mankind's most revolutionary invention. It has defined how we live, work and play for the past fifty years. Before the automobile the average citizen didn't have a chance to visit the mountains or ocean for a vacation, now we make that choice for spending a sunny Saturday afternoon.

For people throughout the world, the automobile means power to conquer the domain of space and distance in their lives. At the magical age of sixteen and a half, any reasonably intelligent teenager can receive a license to travel and the keys to freedom. The subsidized public roads, highways and intestates bring cities within hours of each other, where our grandfathers and great grandfathers measured these distances in days, or possibly weeks of travel. The automobile was a product which created a need that only it could fill: High-speed travel with the freedom of choosing where to go, and how to get there.

While the need is very simple, it has integrated into our lives and our society to a point where we take this freedom for granted. The current generation of mankind can't conceive of a world without the automobile. As long as people need to travel so they can live productive lives, the automobile will be firmly entrenched in our society. The distances to travel, for whatever reason, means less to us. The automobile is such a powerful transportation tool that we rely on it for our daily travels to work. Long commutes to work are so common that it is easy to find two people who live over fifty miles apart and working together in a large city or industrial complex. This was incomprehensible a generation ago. Much of society has built a necessity for the automobile into their normal daily functions.

The extensive use of the automobile is showing its strain on our society, and our environment. While it may be glamorous to travel in a car, it isn't glamorous to be stuck in a traffic jam for almost an hour every morning. Gasoline costs rise and fall, there are shortages, surpluses and poisons are exhausted into the atmosphere. Automobiles are one of the primary causes of air pollution as wall as the source for our increasing demand for import oil. Repair costs are increasing since the automobile has become more complex, and insurance rates continue to rise to outrageous levels. In some cities like New York and Boston it's common to spend a fifth of the car's worth for insurance every year. Most people accept the negative aspects of the automobile as a fact of life. They also feel that something should be done about these issues - but nobody knows what to do.

The cost for an automobile is the second greatest investment in our lives, just behind housing. The cost of a car includes gasoline, insurance, car payments, maintenance and repair. This cost is significant for each of us, but it doesn't include the tax burden of public subsidized roads. Most companies assume normal car maintenance to be about twenty cents a mile, this cost includes everything but insurance or car payments. Automobile costs can quickly run into the thousands of dollars every year. It is up to the consumer to foot the cost of transportation out of his own pocket. The cost of the automobile is so integrated into society's infrastructure that the expense is not even considered overhead in the cost of doing business since it is considered part of the employees salary. In a large corporation, this unseen overhead can amount to millions of dollars spent by the employers as well as employees every year. The cost to maintain an automobile requires a higher salary from his employer since the largest commute for a citizen of this society is to and back from work.

The Bottom Line: Flexibility

The flexibility of the automobile allows a person to move from point A to point B very efficiently. In the case of a job, the person moves from their home to work. Until recently, the work location was the focus of physical labor and materials to produce goods. As we move into an information economy we find that jobs, especially white collar jobs, are based on information stored in a computer instead of the manipulation of physical objects, including paper. The tools of today's businessmen are spreadsheets and databases which replaced adding machines and general ledgers of yesterday. Engineers use CAD (Computer Aided Design) tools instead of the old T-square and triangles to design the products of tomorrow. There are even new careers based on information flow. The use of information is revolutionizing our society since it is now dramatically cheaper to move information than it is to move a person.

Take a look at today's engineering environment. While engineering organizations have become larger, computer power is decentralizing. Workstations continue to appear on more and more desktops. This is a large step in the advancement of computers in our society. Much of the support which an engineer needs is now within the computer. The biggest support cost for an engineer is his computer. His tools are more expensive, but his productivity is also increasing since he has superior tools. He can now do the work which would have taken a dozen engineers to do in the past, if it could be done at all. He can work on his computer anywhere really, the only reason why he needs an office is for communication to his fellow workers.

This migration of work into the computer environment is destroying one of the basic foundations of societies throughout the world. The advent of the computer age has allowed a worker to complete a task, and then with the use of networks, pass the result effortlessly to any place in the world. The cost of data movement continues to drop. As high-speed computer networks and modems become available to the general public, the cost of transmitting data will reduce to the point where it is cheaper to send information to the worker's home instead of bringing the worker to work. These data transmission speeds will continue to increase in the future as ISDN and BISDN are brought to the market, forcing the price gap between commuting to work and computing to work to widen. The automobile will be priced out of the daily commute by the computer since people won't have to go to work to do work. In doing so, the computer will alter how we live, work and play in the future to the same extent that the automobile has altered mankind's lifestyle for over two generations. The computer expands the potential of the mind, thereby eliminating the need for travel and replacing it with a simpler need to communicate and pass information.

In the future, as ISDN and BISDN (which increases the bandwidth of communication to the home) become available, communication speeds to the home will surpass the speeds in the Local area networks of today's office. We are moving towards a society where more of the available jobs could be done at home since the requirements for an office are being slowly whittled away by the computer As resources come available electronically over high-speed computer networks, the physical support involved of office space is reduced, if not eliminated. Software engineering is already an example. Many engineers within Digital work at home on a semi-regular basis. It is becoming common throughout the industry for software developers and consultants work out of their home, because they can! Ideally, when professionals can work at home you can eliminate the need for office space, which is a significant business expense. Everything is pointing to this becoming more common in the future.

The computer revolution will not reach its full potential until the synergy between compute capabilities and data is achieved. A computer is worthless without data to calculate. Mankind has accumulated data and records since the dawn of civilization but only recently has this information become available through a computer. The computer will replace the automobile as the greatest invention in our society. It will be the key tool as we enter an information economy and society, but the true revolution won't occur until people accept computers as a part of their lives: similar to an automobile, a telephone or a television. When people start to take the computer for granted is when the Golden Age of computers will begin. This golden age will last decades, if not generations, similar to the reign of the automobile and television. The company which builds hardware and software products to take advantage of this change in society will stand to gain long-term profit from early development, and profit for over a generation. Over time, much of the money now spent in the automotive market will shift towards the computer market. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars every year spent on home-based systems as well as the ISDN infrastructure. For over a decade, a solid market share could amount to a Trillion Dollars in total sales while the computer becomes an indispensable tool to function in this information society.

The Power of Computing

The computer has already revolutionized much of our lives, but it is only just beginning. The impact of computers in our lives will continue to increase as the computer moves to replace the automobile as society's most treasured invention. Any technology, including computers, doesn't reach its full potential until the average citizen not only has access to the technology, but understands almost instinctively how to use it. Today's personal computer has remarkable capabilities, tomorrow's computers for the home will resemble the high-end workstations of today at a fraction of the price. By the mid-nineties, we'll see 32 bit machines as common as the 16 bitters of today. You know what? That's a of a lot of computing power. If we were discussing the Horsepower performance of an automobile, we'd be comparing a 100 Hp motor to a 200 Hp motor. Both aren't shabby, but the 200 Hp motor comes in real handy if you're in a fix.

If in ten years the workstation of today will be in the home of tomorrow, but what are they going to do there? How can a home user keep a 32 bit computer system effectively utilized? Work is one reason, but that's only a third of the day. There are still sixteen hours available on these machines every working day. Even today, most PCs and workstations are not used to their full potential.

Sure, a computer can monitor the house. That will use a whole 1% of the system capacity. Personal education is another possibility, as long as it is part of the classroom environment and doesn't replace it. The computer for tomorrow's home will be used for data gathering, business transactions, and entertainment/recreation. ISDN is a major key to untapping the capabilities of these machine. The true computer revolution will not start until sufficient processing power is available to the citizen. The computers are only half the solution, the infrastructure to feed data to these machines will not exist until after these machines are in the home. Data could be sent to the computer dozens of times faster than today's speeds, but this is still slow enough to starve the data-hungry machines of tomorrow.

While it may be cheaper to send data home, the infrastructure is not there to support it. 2400, or 9600 baud modems transmits data faster than the human can comprehend it. The problem is that most communication is done through terminal emulation where one device appears to be a ten year old throwback of technology. There is no higher level commands and rarely do you find data compression before transmission, even though compressed data will reduce the connect time and costs. Overall, most communication technology does not take advantage of the hardware capabilities or work within the communication limitations of today.

This is similar to the automobile industry in the early 30's. The Automobile was an efficient form of transportation at that time but the infrastructure of well-constructed roads and superhighways where not available. The result was a machine that could not be used to its full potential. Similarly, I feel that the current technology will make hardware available long before the needed support structure. Therefore, we may tap only a fraction of the available computer capabilities until the twenty first century. A communications infrastructure must be build for computers to achieve their full potential. This infrastructure would be the computer equivalent to roads and highways for automobiles. The infrastructure doesn't only involve hardware, but also software projects whose scale may surpass that of the hardware involved. There are software issues which will only become known as we attempt to connect high performance computer systems in the home, or homestations, over a high-speed network.

How will the future demands change the computer as we know it today? I see the schism between desktops and computer-room systems widening over the next decade, so far I have discussed them as the system which interacts with the user, and the systems which comprise the infrastructure which supports many user systems. User interface issues will migrate to the personal machines while the computer room systems become a resource accessible through LANs or WANs for all to use. These resources will interact with the PC/workstation in ways that are invisible to the user. Computer rooms will be connected through ultra-highspeed backbone networks that span the country, if not the Earth. Requests for data will be as common as long-distance phone calls today.

The Computer Village

What would it be like if a group of computer engineers, who worked in the same project and lived in the same neighborhood, were each given a workstation for their home. They could string up a local Area network that connected their machines. If they wanted to share data, their computers could do it easily. If someone needed to talk to somebody else face to face he could just walk down the street to see them. They can be working at home exclusively, but they would have access to all the tools usually available at the office.

I call this idea "The Computer Village." Imagine a condominium complex, reasonably small, possibly 25-50 units. The project engineers would live within the condominiums, each engineer would have a workstation within their unit. The workstation would connect to a Local Area Network that spanned throughout the Village to the other workstations, computation servers, disk farms, printers, you name it. Office support usually available within the office environment would be available within the Village, things like copiers, faxes, high speed/capacity laser printers, etc.. The engineers will have all the benefits of working in an office environment but have the advantage of working at home.

While the numbers have to be worked out, it should be cheaper than our existing scheme of office complexes. Today, a company pays for office space, but it also subsidizes the engineer's home and transportation to and from work. By having the engineer work within this environment, office costs are eliminated and transportation needs are reduced sharply. The commute becomes the amount of time it takes to crawl out of bed and login to the system.

If the complex was owned by the company, then the cost for housing could be low, or eliminated and a lower salary be given to the engineer. This is a radically different lifestyle that could best be described as a high-tech commune. Not all engineers will appreciate this lifestyle, but many of them would jump at the possibility. If the housing was rent-free, zero commute time, would an engineer take a $5,000 pay cut? Some would, but then others wouldn't go there if you paid them $10,000 _more_.

The biggest advantage of this environment is the role of the computer. A powerful workstation would be in every home. Each would be connected to other homes and extensive computer resources shared by the whole complex. This Computer village would apply today's technology in understanding tomorrow's society. It's just a matter of time before this type of computing power and networking speeds are available to all of society. The village would be a microcosm to learn how to use these tools before the rest of society. Gaining this experience would give a significant edge over the competition since the village can develop tomorrow's products, today. The whole village would be one big research project.

Why would you need a Computer Village? Why not give him his workstation and send him home? Have him come in once a week for meetings. Well, this isn't cost effective yet. The communication between a workstation at home and another computer system at work, or another home, is slow and expensive compared to a Local Area Network like ethernet. The current level of workstation technology is as much stand-alone as an engineer. The goal of this village would be to an environment which can address and solve issues five or ten years ahead of the needs of society. These solutions would be the basis of advanced communication technology which can be retrofitted into the current office environment providing advanced, solutions to today's networking communication issues.

This is not the first time that a project was attempted to address technical issues. Project Athena was attempted to give workstations to all students at MIT. The project succeeded to connect workstations from many vendors into a seamless computer network. In doing so it developed the X-window standard for workstations and solved many problems which initially were unforeseen, such as user validation, network security and running a program on one vendor's hardware while using another vendor's workstation. Project Athena and X-windows is the first step in developing a truly homogeneous network environment. The next step is to push this technology into the home, and in doing so let the professional work at home and communicate to the computer system at home using all the facilities usually available at the workplace including high performance computer systems and high-speed networking.

The software engineer is the best profession to initially experience life in the Computer Village. Their goal would be to develop software for the rest of us. They could be the true pioneers of this technology, defining and developing the infrastructure needed for our society as it enters the twenty first century. The bottom line is that a professional working from his home is less expensive for both the worker and the employer. Forcing him to drive to work to an office owned by the company will no longer be competitive in tomorrow's marketplace. The creation of the Computer Village is a step in this direction, placing a group of people in a lifestyle environment ten years ahead of current technology.

Note 14.1 Possible Computer Integration of today's Society 1 of 12 MEMORY::SLATER 87 lines 28-FEB-1989 18:42

Interesting article, Dave. How did you get the permission? :-)

Competition between physical transport of information users vs transport of the information itself is already going strong. In the physical transport of data we have Fed-X and similar things. In the elctronic transport of data we have FAX and various means of binary transmission.

But more importantly we can see this beeing played out in the ads of the airline industry vs the telephone industry. The airlines show how you can be at these meetings all over the world and make important decisions. The phone company shows how you can phone, conference, FAX, video-conference. They even show what to expect in the future with large holographic displays where everyone *seems* to be in the same room.

As technology proceeds we will see this play out even more dramatically.

On the question of the data infrastructure is where people seem to loose track of perspective. Developing this data infrastructure will take quite a bit of time. However here will be quite a few ways to get around this, even in the near future.

I do not think we should try to expand the local area network in a linear fashion. I think we have to pay more attention to hierarchy and give greater weight to broadcasting and even to non electronic means of data delivery.

I think the hierarchy and broadcasting issues are fairly well understood, so I will discuss the non electronic aspects of data deliverabilty.

Actually, I think this is fairly well understood, but is usually looked at seperately from the issue of communications in general.

A very high data bandwidth may be achieved by shipping a truckload of CD-ROMS. This may sometimes be more economical than shipping parts of the data everytime it is needed.

There are situations even now where it would be handy to have a couple of giga-bytes of reference data on hand in a *local* storage hierarchy with a high powered, interactive pattern matching engine than any remote data base with communications. This will be especially true if *we* become part of the loop using high bandwidth graphics human interface.

We all know that as computers get more powerful that physical distances within the computer become an obstical in solving some problems in a timely manner. We are not speculating on breaking the speed of light barrier so we will expect even more problems with certain types of problems with wide are networks.

We could solve this partially by having humongous volitile storage available locally, but we would still have to get the info there which might cause significant loading on our early data infrastructure.

I say that data distribution by mechnaical means will be a very important part as we build this data infrastructure.

There will be other trade offs between local and remote storage.

On the work at home thing, I gennerally agree. However, I do find problems with extending this to the Computer Village, at least in the corporate form that you suggest.

The main problem I see with this is the restricting of mobility and association. I can see this as being very valuable for the employer but an overall step backwards for the worker. There would also be a diminishing of the variations of productive cultures.

When I leave work, I do not want to find myself with more of the same type of people that I am working with. Even when I do socialize with other DECies, the conversation is not about the project or state of the company.

I like to socialize with other people in other industries and not necessarily about what kind of work they are doing.

And what would this do to family relationships? Would the spouse have to work for the COMPANY? Would the education be taylored to the needs of the particular industry of that COMPANY or even to the particualr needs of that computer/village/company/plant?

I say this would be a step back for our humanity. There is no need live on the company farm and buy from the company store.


Note 14.2 Possible Computer Integration of today's Society 2 of 12 IND::BOWERS "Count Zero Interrupt" 6 lines 7-MAR-1989 22:01 (Culture is the key)

I like the Computer Village idea. However, Les's response to the conept is, I think, fairly typical for this culture. The communal culture probably needs to come before the technical solution. The first Computer Village may be a Komputer Kibbutz...


Note 14.3 Possible Computer Integration of today's Society 3 of 12 HPSCAD::DDOUCETTE "The Practical Technocrat" 38 lines 8-MAR-1989 21:08 (More on the Computer Village)

Sorry for not getting back to this sooner.

The Intent of the Computer Village is twofold, the first is to be a working laboratory where hardware and software can be developed for an environment where the current workstation-class computers are in every home and every home is connected to a high-speed network. In this way, the Computer village is a prototype of the future where these features are available to the general public.

The second is to be a seed for the advancement of technology in a region which doesn't need the transportation infrastructure. (automobiles, roads, gas stations, insurance companies, etc.) In this way, the computer village could be a start of an infrastructure for underdeveloped region. Education could be a one of the commodities sold by the village to the general region. The other commodity could be software translated to the local language. Once the village is set up, the major requirements would be food, and reliable power. Communication to the outside world could be achieved through a satellite dish if the village is too remote.

Actually, the Computer Village is a vehicle for development with a limited lifespan. In theory, the Computer Village may only have a lifespan of 25 to 40 years. Granted, this is a large window, but once home communication speeds reach LAN speeds, the computer village is no different than every home ('cept that the people have more experience with these capabilities (-: ). Building a Computer Village will raise technical questions as well as social and moral ones. When BISDN becomes available after the turn of the century, there will be a 600Mb fiber-optic connection to a home. This breaks down to 3 video channels, two audio channels, and a 640Kb data channel. This data would (finally!) be a challenge for the computer hardware available at the home during the same time. The one key piece which is missing is software! If we build a village now, then we can start pursuing the software issues before everything else is available on a social scale. Then the software will be ready when the hardware and telecommunication capabilities are in place, and this software will be in DEMAND. In other words, we'll have the knowledge, expertise and tools the market demands. From that point, we are in the optimum position to give the customer what he wants and what he needs.