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The International Writers Magazine: 21st Century Window

The Brick Internet
• Byron Reese

The Internet kinda sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet. It is the greatest invention since at least movable type and perhaps since writing itself. But it is still so primitive that it is barely past the “stone knives and bear skins” stage of technology.

Byron Reese
© jeffgalferphotography

Think of early cell phones. I had one. It was the size of a brick and just a bit heavier than one. And yet, it worked. The Internet we have today is cool because it works, but man, it sure doesn’t work very well.

All of that is about to change. Imagine that today’s Internet, which on one hand seems quite advanced, is about as far along, relatively speaking, as that brick of a cell phone. And that the next four or five years will bring us from that brick to the metaphoric equivalent of the iPhone.

How can this be? Well, let’s go over all the things wrong with what I will call the Brick Internet. All of these will be gone in just a very few years.

To start with, the Brick Internet is largely a desktop phenomenon. It required a machine the size of a breadbox to operate. This was never what anyone wanted; it was simply all we had. The Brick Internet requires a 110-volt electrical outlet. This was never a good idea; it was simply all we knew how to do. And as far as a data entry device, the Brick Internet opted for a hundred-year-old secretarial tool. No one was terribly excited by this choice, it was simply the only idea we knew how to build.

All of that has changed, of course. Sure, the mobile revolution itself isn’t all that new, but the ubiquity of it is. The Internet that is coming in a half-decade will take voice commands and accept images as inputs.

Next, the Brick Internet requires that all the information placed on it be entered, usually manually, by people. It is not self-populating. It also can’t tell the difference between true information and false information, so it is not error correcting. It is highly redundant. In other words, it takes a lot of effort to get information onto the Internet, much of the information is probably wrong, and we have no way to tell the difference. The Internet of the future will solve all of these problems.

Next, the Brick Internet requires you search for what you want to know. Think about that for a minute. You have to ask a question to get an answer. So if you don’t know what question to ask, or even that you need to ask a question, well, that is just too bad. Further, you can’t just ask a question, you have to guess what words are on the page you are looking for. Because of this, search only works for a tiny sliver of the practical applications of the Internet. If you want a craft idea for a six-year-old boy that uses glue and string and can be done in fifteen minutes, well, good luck finding that. The Internet that is coming will send you information you need before you know you even need it.

The Brick Internet is just a bunch of words and pictures. It has little structure and even less context. There is very little metadata on it. For instance, web pages might have a piece of information, but they don’t use any method for telling an application when this information is useful or where it is useful or to whom it is useful. There is no data that tells you how current the information is, or a consistent way to reference a source, or any of hundreds or thousands of pieces of information about that content that would actually make it useful. When metadata and context are added, entirely new kinds of applications will emerge that will seem almost indistinguishable from necromancy.

Also, the Brick Internet isn’t anywhere close to omnipresent. Even if I carry a smart phone and have access to the Internet, the Internet does not envelop me. It is still merely a little screen in my pocket. Remember how on Star Trek, no matter where someone was on the Enterprise, he could simply ask the computer a question by talking into the air? Instantly the person would get an answer. That’s what we are going to get.

The Brick Internet is also expensive. My first brick cell phone cost me $30 a month for, get this, thirty minutes of talking per month. Additional minutes cost a dollar each. I don’t know about you, but I have very little that I will pay a dollar a minute to say. Any device that can get on the Brick Internet is, relatively speaking, expensive. It a very short amount of time, Internet-enabled devices will cost a quarter and be the size of one as well. When that happens, everything gets connected. Your sprinkler system, your jacket, your toothbrush, everything.

Next, the Brick Internet seems preoccupied by websites and webpages. These relics of a bygone era probably seemed natural to us as they roughly corresponded to books and pages, which was a useful data structure three hundred years ago, but less so now. The Internet of the future will be a seamless collection of information with high degrees of interoperability.

The Brick Internet is pretty empty. It has about fifty billion pages, depending on what you are counting and who is doing the counting. The world’s appetite for content will dwarf this in the coming years. Much of that content will be made automatically based on the input of millions of sensors around the world.

All of this is but a sample of how radically I think the Internet will change in the very near future. The opportunities for entrepreneurs are extraordinary and the ways in which this new Internet will touch our lives and change the world are profound. While I do not have the space to go into it here, I believe this new Internet will launch a new Golden Age of humanity and usher in a world free of ignorance, disease, poverty, hunger and war. We live at the turning point of world history and that thought alone should both humble and inspire us all.
Byron Reese has just completed the forthcoming book:
Golden Age 2.0: How The Internet Will End Ignorance, Disease, Hunger, Poverty, And War.

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