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Strategic Insights in Accelerating Technological Change

5 July, 2004

Welcome to Tech Tidbits, a brief weekly-to-biweekly selection (30 to 50 issues/year) of future-important news published by your nonprofit Institute for the Study of Accelerating Change (ISAC). We now have over 2,500 fascinating acceleration-aware folks in our community, from a wide range of disciplines and more than twenty countries. You are receiving this because you subscribed at some point in the past. If you are receiving this in error, unsubscribe details are at the bottom of this newsletter. Thank you for joining, and let us know (mail-at-accelerating.org) what you think.

First, a quick announcement:

 

 

Accelerating Change 2004: Physical Space, Virtual Space, and Interface
The ISAC will hold its second annual Accelerating Change conference this September 10th-12th at lovely Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. We had 24 speakers and 300 attendees at Accelerating Change 2003. This year we'll have 36 speakers, and a fantastic lead sponsor, SAP, the largest inter-enterprise software company in the world, to give you an even more amazing event.

AC2004's theme, Physical Space, Virtual Space, and Interface, analyzes the intersection of three key trends:

  • Accelerating interconnectivity of the physical world
  • Increasing accuracy of the simulated world
  • Growing importance of the physical-virtual, human-machine interface.

Each of these alone is powerfully impacting society today. Together, they paint a truly transformative picture of the future. AC2004 features engaging interactive debates, a virtual worlds workshop, a collective intelligence dinner, and several other informative events and activities. Speakers will emphasize a balanced mix of analysis, forecasting, action plans, and examples, using multidisciplinary inquiry and a synthesis of technical, entrepreneurial, and humanist dialog.

Confirmed speakers so far include Thomas Barnett (author of The Pentagon's New Map), Chris Anderson (editor-in-chief of Wired magazine), Will Wright (creator of The Sims), Jaron Lanier (pioneer in Virtual Reality systems), Philip Rosedale (creator of the digital world, Second Life), and David Brin (author of Transparent Society). More information, including the latest list of speakers, events and registration details, can be found on our conference website: http://www.accelerating.org/ac2004/index.html

At $350 for the weekend, AC2004 is priced well below other top-quality strategic technology, business, and humanist futures conferences such as AlwaysOn ($1,795*), Business 4Site ($1,095*), MIT Emerging Technologies ($995*), O'Reilly Emerging Technologies ($1,145*), Telecosm ($1,495*), and Pop!Tech ($1,695*). (*2003 or 2004 regular registration rates). There are only 300 spaces available, so sign up soon if you would like to attend.

We sincerely hope you can join us at Stanford this September.


As prep for AC2004, Tech Tidbits will feature at least three items weekly, arranged by our three conference themes. Have your own breaking news to submit? Let us know at mail-at-accelerating.org

PHYSICAL SPACE
Tune In, Turn On, Skype Out, Kevin Werbach, TechCentralStation, 1 July 2004 (2 pages)
[Commentary by John Smart] 2004 may be the year that voice over IP (VOIP) enters the public consciousness. Over broadband, VOIP systems are now often indistinguishable from PSTN's (public switched telephone networks, like those owned by AT&T) in voice quality. Cisco's IP phones are being installed in many business telephony upgrades. For consumers there are private VOIP systems like Vonage and Free World Dialup which have lower quality but are still acceptable for many types of calls.

The most interesting new technology in this area is the P2P (peer to peer) VOIP system called Skype, created by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, the Sweden-based founders of the world's leading P2P file-sharing software, KaZaA. PCs with broadband internet, running Skype in the background (using up to 30% of your CPU's capacity), route not files but calls, often without noticeable latency. As computers and networks improve exponentially, P2P VOIP could become a long-awaited killer app for P2P/distributed computing, helping everyone and their databases become permanently electronically connected, 24/7. (As usual, security may be the rate-limiting step). As of Feb 2004 45% of U.S. households have broadband internet access. If more users can be induced to leave their computers "always on" (some 10-20% of U.S. broadband users currently do so today), this would create an impressive network of Skype-computers available to route P2P calls in the background.

So far, the FCC is preserving the difference between PSTN and VOIP telephony. The former depends on a heavily regulated oligopoly with low levels of intrinsic competition, due to the high cost of centralized infrastructure. The latter is emerging on a lightly regulated, much more decentralized system (the internet) that has the potential to rapidly eliminate global voice communications costs, spurring dramatic increases in planetary productivity. This won't be a politically easy transition, and the telcos will seek legal slowdowns as hundreds of billions of dollars in access revenue vanish in coming years. But when business and consumers have access to commodity-priced basic communications, they will be freed to purchase more specialized and value-driven information services, today offered mostly by non-telco providers (cable, wireless, Netflix, TiVo, ISP, etc.). FCC Chairman Michael Powell has repeatedly demonstrated his friendship to rapid improvement of VOIP systems, as this April 2004 ruling against AT&T shows.

Skype has a new early beta service, SkypeOut, just launched mid-June. Theoretically, it allows Skype users to call any telephone subscriber on an ordinary phone. Fees are about 0.012 Euros or 1.5 cents per minute. All Skype computer-to-computer calls are still free and unlimited. They are also moving into wireless. You can download Skype for Pocket PC, allowing you to make calls to other PC users from your Wi-Fi enabled PDA in any local hotspot. The system is still buggy and premature, but the promise is tremendous. Will Skype scale? Who knows, here in 2004. But if you want to help accelerate the Skype phenomenon, download your own free copy today.

 


VIRTUAL SPACE
Spot On: Virtual Worlds... Trouble Ahead, Curt Feldman, GameSpot, 3 July 2004 (5 pages)
[Commentary by Jerry Paffendorf] A strong introductory article outlining real world legal issues of ownership and trade in online Virtual Worlds (VWs). Richard Bartle—co-designer of the first MUD (Multi-User Domain—the earliest sort of text-based VW), author of the VW A-through-Z, "Designing Virtual Worlds", and regular contributor to the ISAC-recommended Terra Nova blog covering virtual spaces—sees conflicts over virtual ownership boiling over into actual courtrooms with added frequency, and he fears what judges will have to say about the matter: "The biggest pitfall of virtual property comes from the fact that the concept is so new: there aren't the precedents, either in law or in practice, to be certain how it will finally be managed." This article contains references to the works of several other notable VW scholars and innovators, including Edward Castronova, Philip Rosedale, and Nova Barlow (of The Themis Group)--all three of whom will be presenting at AC2004.

 


INTERFACE
Motorola and AgileTV™ Provide Voice Recognition for Digital Set-Top Platforms, Motorola, 29 April, 2004 (2 pages)
[Commentary by John Smart] The healthy competition between cable and satellite has just delivered a major step forward in natural (voice, speech, linguistic) user interfaces. AgileTV, a privately held company in Silicon Valley, has partnered with Motorola, the world's leading provider of digital cable set-top boxes and cable modems, to provide a voice activated remote control for Motorola's DCT2000, allowing customers to rapidly find and scan programs using a push-to-talk button and voice commands such as "Find Tech TV" or "Find movies with Will Smith". "Scan sitcom" or "scan science" delivers all TV in a range of categories (currently 60). The server-based system, ScanSoft's SpeechWorks, is gaining broad use in telephone call centers. SpeechWorks recognizes 100,000 phrases and multiple languages. Grammars and new services can be updated frequently at the back end, transparent to the user.

USA Media, the 38th largest U.S. cable provider, tested the system for 15 months. Users quickly master the system by trying phrases, and according to David Hanson, Agile TV's senior VP, "recognition accuracy was not a problem" in USA Media tests, due to the server-based design. Carl McGrath, Motorola VP and GM, digital core gateways, sees voice activation providing a more feature rich platform for consumers, and creating new revenue opportunities by making video-on-demand and other content easier to access. Most importantly for the timing of the development, voice functionality gives cable a unique product advantage over satellite (which can't support the two-way data rate). The system was first demoed at NCTA 2004 (2-5 May, New Orleans).

As Bill Meisel, editor of the industry newsletter Speech Recognition Update notes, millions of cable users and viewing hours make this a potentially larger application for speech technology than current call centers. In his June 2004 issue, Meisel points out that voice-controlled remotes have been tried before, but lists nine reasons why he expects the Agile/Motorola offering to help customers become familiar with the evolving capabilities of speech recognition on a daily basis, and accelerate acceptance of server-based Voice User Interface on small devices. We'll have free copies of Speech Recognition Update at Accelerating Change 2004. We hope to see you there!


Open Call for Submissions

ISAC is currently requesting submissions for its Accelerating Times (AT) web-based publication. AT is a "free and priceless" newsletter, featuring broad coverage and incisive editorials on scientific, technological, business, and humanist dialogs in accelerating change. Anyone interested in submitting original material relevant to the broad study and analysis of accelerating change may do so via email to mail-at-accelerating.org. Submissions may take the form of articles, papers, scan hits, questions and even cartoons (for you illustrators out there). Contributers will be notified of their acceptance status in a timely fashion, and accepted work will appear, fully credited, in future issues of Accelerating Times. Visit http://singularitywatch.com/news.html for more details.

NEWS

Tune In, Turn On, Skype Out

Spot On: Virtual Worlds... Trouble Ahead

Motorola and AgileTV™ Provide Voice Recognition for Digital Set-Top Platforms

 

COMING EVENTS

AlwaysOn 2004, July 13-15 (Palo Alto, CA). Business innovation summit.

 

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