The author

Future internet

Steven Pemberton, CWI and W3C, Amsterdam

The Web

80's: research into digital documents

1994: Workshops at the first Web conference

Chair at W3C

Co-Author of HTML4, CSS, XHTML, XForms, RDFa, and others.


Interactions cover The Digital Hug

For the best part of a decade I was editor-in-chief of interactions, published from New York. This issue was my favourite: the results of a project investigating what would happen if mobile phones had a built-in camera. (This was 1999, three years before they came on the market).


Prototype camera phone

Here is a boy trying out the test camera. The electronics representing the mobile phone are in the backpack.

The Future, the Past

If you want to think about the future, you should think about the past too.

"At [The Institute for the Future], we always make a point to look back at history before starting any forecast." - David Pescovitz

Jan Lievens (1607-74) in St. Albans

St. Albans, by Lievens

Same view now

The same view now

Abbey Gateway, St. Albans

St. Albans Abbey Gateway

The third printing press in England was set up here in 1479

1485 Chronicles of England

Chronicles of England 1485

Printed on that press. Note how it imitates a manuscript.

Universities and Books


"When the Anglo-Saxon Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey planned to create three copies of the bible in 692—of which one survives—the first step necessary was to plan to breed the cattle to supply the 1,600 calves to give the skin for the vellum required."

New College Oxford 1300 and the future

New College Dining Hall

Story reported by Stewart Brand in How buildings learn.

(So what are we doing for 2500?)

Book 1450

Printing in 1568

Gutenberg brought known technologies together (just like the web did): ink, paper, wine presses, movable type.


By 1501 there were 1000 printing shops in Europe, which had produced 35,000 titles and 20 million copies.

Price of books greatly diminished (First bible 300 florins, about 3 years wages for a clerk).

A new means of distribution of information.

Paradigm shift - new industries, bookshops, newspapers.

Many ascribe the enlightenment to the availability of books.

Information increase

1665: first scientific journals French Journal des Sçavans and the British Philosophical Transactions

From then on the number of scientific journals doubled every 15 years, right into the 20th century.

Even as late as the 70's if you had said "there has to come a new way of distributing information to support this growth", they would have thought you crazy, more likely expecting the growth to end.

But now that we have the internet, the amount of information produced continues to increase at an exponential rate (doubling every three years according to one report, every 11 hours according to a newer one).

Exponential growth and orders of magnitude

If something doubles at regular intervals, it is called an exponential growth.

Note that a doubling per 2 years is the same as a 10 fold increase every 6 and a bit years; we call a 10-fold ancrease an order of magnitude change.

"An order of magnitude quantitative change is a qualitative change"

Exponential 20 iterations

Graph of 2^x

Scale, 40 iterations

2^x from 1 to 40

Note how there now seems to be nearly no action before iteration 26. The 'knee' is a fiction, a visual effect of the scaling used.

Logarithmic scale

Using Logarithmic scale

Moore's Law

In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that integrated circuits would double in power each year at constant price 'for at least 10 years'.

In 1975 he adjusted that to a doubling every 18 months.

That's an order of magnitude increase every 5 years.

"An order of magnitude quantitative change is a qualitative change"

Example of exponential growth: Laptop speeds

Laptop speeds

Exponential Bandwidth Increase

Bandwidth on a log scale

What exponential growth really means to you and me

Often people don't understand the true effects of exponential growth.

A BBC reporter recently: "Your current PC is more powerful than the computer they had on board the first flight to the moon". Right, but oh so wrong (Closer to the truth: your current computer is several times more powerful than all the computers they used to land a man on the moon put together.)

Take a piece of paper, divide it in two, and write this year's date in one half:



Now divide the other half in two vertically, and write the date 18 months ago in one half:



Now divide the remaining space in half, and write the date 18 months earlier (or in other words 3 years ago) in one half:



Repeat until your pen is thicker than the space you have to divide in two:



This demonstrates that your current computer is more powerful than all other computers you have had put together (and way more powerful than the computer they had on board the first moonshot).

Will Moore's Law come to an end?

Surely, but don't hold your breath. Over the years, I have heard many predictions that it was "nearly" at an end.

Exponential change

This is November 2006:

November 2006

Not yet 5 years later, the same stick will cost you about €5.

Screens are subject to similar drops too.

The price of technology

We actually use Moore's law to reduce the price we pay, at the same time as increasing the power (in 1990 people were willing to pay ¤4500 for a desktop computer).

We have seen

¤1,000,000 mainframes in the 50s

¤100,000 minis in the 60s

¤10,000 workstations in the 70's

¤1,000 PCs in the 80's

(¤ is the international character for "unit of currency", and it doesn't matter here whether we use $ € or £, since we are talking orders of magnitude)

We really should have expected the emergence of the ¤100 machine, and the question is really why it took so long.

The ¤100 Computer

The ¤100 computer arrives

Computer generations


Usage of the ¤100 computer

Carry round, plug into larger screens and keyboards. Tablets.

No longer one computer per family: need to store data off the computer.

Bandwidth is doubling per year, documents 'in the cloud'.

So are we done?

Should we be thinking of a soon-to-appear ¤10 computer, and if so, how will we use it?

One computer per light fitting? Why not?

Can we already see the coming of the ¤10 computer?

Mp3 video player with colour screen: under €30

Keyring picture frame: €10

Keyring picture frame: €5

These examples all have a screen, a USB port, and can do reasonable amounts of processing (it has to in order to manage video)

1968: The Internet is born

A cooperative effort.

1988 arrives in Europe.

Showed the true cost of long distance communications: in 1988, phoning long-distance was expensive, and the further you phoned, the more expensive it was. People considered it reasonable, because it matched their expectations.

In fact, the expensive part is the local loop: only one person (you) is using that. The long-distance part can be amortised over 1000's of calls.

The internet made this all to clear: going to a site in New York is no more expensive than going to one locally.

1990 The Web

Tim Berners-Lee (and Robert Caillau) created the Web at Cern

Brought together many existing technologies (Hypertext, the internet, MIME types) and created a cohesive whole.


Typically people expect that we will use new technologies in the same way we use existing ones.

Steam engines: one engine, lots of pulleys to distribute the power over the factory.

Assumed the same would happen with electric engines: one engine in the house with pulleys taking the power to where you needed it.

They thought there would be vacuum cleaner tube attachment points in every room, with one central motor doing the sucking..

Same with mainframe computers: assumed 5 would be enough. Why would people want personal computers? They don't need to do payrolls!

The new imitates the old

First books like manuscripts

First cars like carriages

First radio like plays

Web now imitating old media

Future Web

The current web is still very immature.

Content is presentation-oriented.

Little device independence

Little accessibility

Little machine-readability

Authoring is too hard - needs programming skills.

What is to come

Interlinking of services

Internet everywhere, lights, oven, your alarm clock

Everyone a publisher

Nothing unavailable

True costs - like the internet showed with long distance calls, so we will learn the true cost of content.

A second enlightenment?



Music industry is healthy, record industry is not.

Old media struggling to retain ownership (compare region codes on DVDs)

A change in the means of distribution.

A change in the availability of information.

The end of the hit.

A paradigm shift

Paradigm shifts

Take my grandparents: when they were born the only 'modern' technologies they knew were trains and photography.

No hot water, no gas or electricity, no flushing toilets.

And think of the changes that they saw in their lifetimes: cars, electricity, radio, movies, talkies, TV, computers, credit cards, cash machines, ...

In fact it seems that paradigm shifts are happening more and more frequently, and have been for a very long time

The Singularity

Development of paradigm shifts over the ages(From wikipedia)


Make no mistake: we are at a turning point in history. The internet is going to have as great an effect on society as the book did, only much quicker.

Newspapers, music industry, books in trouble? Pah! Nothing. Just wait!

The means of distribution are changing hands.

"The classified ads (and stock market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative form of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold." Marshall McLuhan, "Understanding Media", 1964

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Roy Amara, The Institute for the Future