Finally, after ten years of

by francine Hardaway on June 15, 2004

Finally, after ten years of building everything from robotic vacuum cleaners and cell phones that take pictures��if you build it they will come� — the technology industry has set its sights on actually HELPING every other industry rather than simply flexing its muscle for its own entertainment like a weightlifter showing off on a beach.

What this means is the end of complicated deployments, software that can�t be used after it�s bought, and baffling network outages. Instead, the next generation of technology is proving to be expansive and integrative, building on what has gone before. Technology is actually getting useful.

We haven�t even begun to see the potential of wireless networks and broadband, which have already catapulted half of the world�s population into an economy formerly closed off to them. Some of those newly developing populations, adopting technology more quickly than we are, have skipped over traditional communications infrastructure and gone directly to information delivered by satellite. We get Al-Jazeera, but they get CNN.

Although there are only about 140,000 wi-fi hot spots (wireless networks that use the 802.11b standard and operate over at most a 30-foot radius), the next generation technology called Wi-Max, will cover a 30 mile radius.

Only about a third of Americans have broadband to the home. And our broadband, to use the words of Intel CEO Craig Barrett, is half-assed. American DSL lines deliver information to the home at perhaps 512k or at most, 1 mbs. In China and Japan, broadband to the home comes in at 20MB or more. That�s one screaming phone line.

Here�s how broadband and wireless will potentiate the entertainment industry. The shift to digital technology in the entertainment industry has made more possible than just piracy of intellectual property. It has changed the economics of the film industry, creating new markets, new products, and new distribution channels. Entertainment will continue to be delivered in new, exciting ways, to your home, office, telephone or car. Think DVD, which has given new life to old film libraries. Think portable DVD player, which allows you to take those movies on the road with you. And think about the convergence of computer technology and consumer electronics to deliver information between the TV, the Tivo, and the PC over a wireless network. Then think of the digital delivery of movies to theatres via broadband, and their projection over Texas Instruments digital projectors. No more broken film. Distribution costs are being wrung out of the movie industry, which is no longer really the �film� industry..

At the same time, on the production end, inexpensive digital videorecorders have allowed young filmmakers to bring creative projects to market, and films that used to need casts of thousands to be generated by casts of gigaherz and megabytes. Documentary films, which never before were widely seen in theatres, are now winning prizes at the Cannes Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival, exposing millions to the plight of Afghan women and the migration habits of birds.

The advertising model for television, too, has changed with the invention of digital video recording, or Tivo, which allows people to save TV programming to a hard drive and replay it on demand, editing out unwanted elements . 30-second spots are giving way to sponsorships and product placements as advertisers scramble to catch viewers fast forwarding through their commercials. And programming in the TV industry has been forced to change as well, because we are now �narrowcasting� over hundreds of cable and satellite channels rather than reaching large numbers of customers through only three networks.

In the healthcare industry, things are changing even more quickly, as the federal government forces Medicare and Medicaid providers to file claims electronically and other insurers climb on the paperless bandwagon. While office automation is coming slowly to the physicians� offices, hospitals use supply chain and inventory management systems that track Kleenex boxes from the vendor to the bedside to the hospital�s billing system to the insurance company�s reimbursement systems.

Most teaching hospitals already use wireless networks and PDAs to follow physicians on Grand Rounds, and many ordinary physicians use order/entry software to prescribe medications for hospitalized patients. Coming in the next decade will be the electronic medical record, currently being developed according to a set of open standards put forth by an industry consortium and the federal government. Soon you will have your entire medical history on a smart card you can either carry in your wallet, or access with your doctor via a web browser. Web MD is already blazing new ground in some of these areas, and the gap between what the doctor knows as opposed to what the patient knows is quickly closing. Patients routinely come to the doctor�s office with printouts of information from the Internet, asking the doctor to confirm the self-diagnosis they have already made and give them the treatment they have learned is the gold standard.

Also coming off the drawing boards is the use of wireless technology to remotely monitor patients in their homes, checking their blood pressure, blood sugar and oxygen saturation through medical devices that transmit the information over a cell phone or a computer to a call center where anything outside normal parameters will trigger a call to the physician � not by the patient, but by the technician monitoring the screen in a data center.

In fact, controlling the skyrocketing health care costs of chronic diseases such as diabetes has become so important that devices implanted under the skin of the patient that dispense insulin as needed according to algorithms defined by the glucose monitor, or even an implanted artificial pancreas, are being tested.

At all levels, the government has gotten into the information technology act with a slew of customer service initiatives, automating its contact with constituents through a series of efforts known collectively as e-government. In Arizona, no one has to go to the Motor Vehicle Bureau to renew drivers� licenses or vehicle registrations; the state has an IBM web services portal called, appropriately ServiceArizona, at which all these functions are handled online. Although Service Arizona is a demonstration site, it has been a big success and has been replicated by other states.

The best use of information technology by government has been the Internal Revenue Service�s initiative to convince taxpayers to file returns electronically. For individual tax returns, information may be imported into a TurboTax file from a Quicken or Quickbooks file, Turbotax asks the taxpayer to answer some questions about the information, the form is then error-checked (and checked for items that may cause an audit), and transmitted over a secure internet connection to the Internal Revenue Service. Once imported into Turbotax, the same information is re-purposed for the state income tax forms. Tax refunds are issued to electronic filers in as little as two weeks.

Diverse functions such as paying parking tickets, opening utility accounts, and protesting property taxes have also gravitated to the web, where it can be agued that the government has the most complete 360 degree of its customers of any industry. You may not think this is good, but it is slowly becoming true.

The world has become a vastly more interesting � and smaller � place over the past decade, and I believe it is destined to become even more so.

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