Nicholas Negroponte is a founder and the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technologys uniquely innovative Media Laboratory. The ten-year-old Media Lab, an interdisciplinary, multi-million dollar research center of unparalleled intellectual and technological resources, focuses exclusively on the study and experimentation of future forms of human communication, from entertainment to education. Media Lab research is supported by Federal contracts and by more than one hundred and fifty corporations worldwide. He has delivered hundreds of presentations, including the prestigious Murata "People Talk" address in Kyoto in 1990. In addition, he consults to both government and industry, serves as an active member on several corporate boards of directors and is a special general partner in a venture capital fund dedicated to new technologies for information and publishing. Negroponte was senior columnist for WIRED magazine (available online through HotWired) and is the author of the book Being Digital, published by Alfred A. Knopf.
The digital planetin space and timeis smaller than the head of a pin and shorter than an instant. Under these conditions: art, culture and indigenous expression will thrive, not be homogenized, colonialized or traumatized by some anglophone force of nerds. The contrary. Worldwide access by children, by poorer nations and by those who are or feel marginalized, will result in local value and identity, as well as global understanding and peace. Nicholas Negroponte.
It probably takes a certain amount of guts to come and talk to a group at the Getty without one single slide or one videotape, but the only thing I can tell you in small defense of that is that in some work we were doing in Africa where children were asked which medium did they like the most, and obviously the question was to look at television and the Internet and so on--particularly television--and one kid said that he preferred radio. And so there was extraordinary amount of dismay and they said, "why, why do you prefer radio?"
He said because the pictures are better. Think about it, what a profound statement for an eight year old. So hopefully the pictures will be better over the next hour.
Also by way of this sort of remark, something I would not ordinarily do, in fact, I go out of my way not to talk about myself, but I'd just like to tell you a story. And that was that\ when I was about 17 years old, I did very well in school in art classes. And I was determined I was going to grow up to be a sculptor. But I also did very well in math and as a consequence, I was kinda torn. In fact, when it came time to sort of make the decisions to where I was going to go to college and so on, I went to the principal. And this was a small private school so you had access to the principal and I went to the principal and I said, "You know, I really do very well in art and I do very well in math, so I think the right thing for me to do is to go and study architecture." And--which is in fact what I ended up doing--but he looked at me and said, "You know, I like gray suits and I like pinstriped suits, but I really hate gray pinstriped suits." And it took me about ten years to figure out what he was talking about. And I decided not to be a practicing architect and that, in fact, computers for me are sort of the gray suit and stripped suit mixed as I would like them I guess."
I'm going to try to use the time to share with you what sort of "Being Digital" means now versus five years ago in terms of the planet as a whole. "Being Digital" as a book is so embarrassingly old. You have to realize it was written three years before Netscape existed as a company and, you know, I sort of get a little bit nervous that time has moved very, very rapidly. But the one thing that "Being Digital" did--that I sort of luckily stumbled on--was to sort of break the world up into two parts, sort of bits and atoms. And that distinction turned out to be, or at least looking at the world from those two perspectives, turned out to be perhaps lucky, but it also keeps sort of getting better and better because I bump into, more and more often, things that I just never expected. Things that have to with how we treat monetary systems, how we think about the wall, the sort of whole regulatory side of many issues that are driven either explicitly or implicitly by our understanding of atoms and how we move them and how we do this and so on. And while many people, perhaps many people in this room who didn't like physics or didn't take physics, you don't have to understand it from the physics point of view. We have a very visceral response to atoms. We sort of, we know them, we eat them, we wear them, we stand on them, and they have color, shape, size, weight, etc. And we make a lot of assumptions based on that.
The world of bits, unfortunately, has no visceral counterpart. In other words, we don't really understand bits viscerally. They don't have shape, size, color, etc. And when they move they kind of move at the speed of light. So many of the things, many of the decisions that we make that are based again on sort of what cyberspace might look like, how it should behave, should it be regulated, can it be regulated, come from the world of atoms and not really from the world of bits. So I'll try and sort of give some examples, but let mecharacterize it by telling you a specific project and a question before it.
One of the questions I'm asked more than ever--and probably one of the most frequently asked questions--is "What is the future of print?" The people asking me that question are clearly newspapers, magazines, companies like Random House. Boyze(?) was really smart to sell Random House, just extraordinary. But anyway, that's not the point. The point is when somebody asks me "What is the future of print?" what it illustrates is that they don't understand, they really don't understand what the digital world is about. The question isn't "What is the future of print?" The question is "What is the future of words?" That would of course be pictures, diagrams--but let me pick on words.
The future of words is extraordinary. I mean, there is in fact no other means of communication that communicates so much with so few bits. That in fact, words are extraordinarilypowerful. Just a few words can create a war, can start a religion, can do all sorts of things. And the future of words is absolutely no question--there's absolutely nobody in their right mind that would question the future of words.
Now you can do a couple of things with words. You can put them in the acoustic domain, which is what I'm doing now. Or you can make them visually available. You can carve them into stone, you can tattoo them on your body, you can sky-write them if you can afford it. And of course, you can put text on paper. Now if you think about that for a second, one of the projects--and it's sort of evolved in the past couple of years at the media lab--is, okay, well let's--if people are so interested in the field and the, you know there's this relationship people have with this paper. It's a reflective medium, it doesn't--reflects light, it doesn't really hurt your eyes the way some people have complained. Let's see if we can make an electronic paper. And in fact we succeeded.
And I'm just going to explain very quickly, actually, how it works. I don't know if people in the audience know how carbonless paper works, but carbonless paper is kinda magical when you think about it. Because what people have done with carbonless paper is they have put on the back of the sheet a very, very thin coating of encapsulated ink. Think of bubble packing when you receive something in the mail shipped to you and it's wrapped in this clear bubble packing stuff. Imagine now that those bubbles is really, really tiny and it's a thin coating on the back of the sheet of paper. And inside each capsule is a kind of little bit of ink. So when you write on the sheet of paper, what's happening literally, it's kind of hard to believe, it's actually what's happening. You write on the piece of paper and you, the point of your ball-point pen or pencil is actually breaking these little capsules that are on the back of the sheet of paper and squeezing the ink on the next sheet. That's literally how carbonless paper works.
Now imagine that sort of technology, which they've clearly got down to doing it very inexpensively coating the back of the paper--imagine that being on the top of the paper. And instead of putting ink in each capsule, we'll put a tiny little Ping-Pong ball effectively. And it's white on one side and black on the other, we'll throw a little lubricant in with this Ping-Pong ball and all of those, let's say the black is charged positively and the white is charged negatively. If I run that sheet of paper through a special printer, this does nothing more than put the right charge at the right time, I will get a sheet out of the printer which is the blacks are perfectly black, the whites are perfectly black, it looks as good as any well-tuned laser printer. The only difference is I can take that sheet of paper when I'm finished with it, put it back in the printer, run it through again and keep re-using it. Which is of some interest to the newspaper companies, so that you can deliver newspapers electronically instead of using child labor or whatever else you're using.
And the next step is to put a layer, a couple of layers actually, using transparent inks of sort of a grid on top of this sheet of paper so that it's like your laptop and you can then sort of autonomously without running through a printer, you can rotate those little spheres and create a display on pulp medium that looks and feels like paper.
And then the third step is to use the same transparent inks, but now what you do is you put the circuitry of a radio so that actually the sheet of paper is a radio--we call it radio paper--and it's receiving signals like your cellular phone might or your radio might, that update goes on the sheet of paper. So if you're reading the newspaper and you're getting stock price or something, it might be turning over or changing as you're actually reading it. So it's sort of real-time on-line paper.
Now when you take this stuff and it's cheap enough and you bind 300 or 400 sheets together and put some leather on the front and the back and call them covers and make it look and feel like a book--the difference is the spine of this book has a plug on it and you can plug it in. And it starts off with all the pages blank, you plug it in download whatever book you want, take it out, unplug it, read it in bed or the beach or whenever you like to read things, and then when you finish reading it, you plug it in and effectively suck out the letters and write a new book and so on. So your great-grandchildren might have a library of one book which gets written over and over again.
Now for the people who are more graphically sensitive, you might want various aspect ratios for your books. So you might have a half-dozen of them. A consequence in developing countries is quite significant, where many schools--in fact, most schools--don't even have books. So there's a certain amount of importance in that domain.
The reason I mention that story and tell it is to sort of, once I've told you about electronic paper, perhaps you'll sympathize why I get so kind of frustrated when somebody says, "Well, what is the future of paper?" They just don't get it. It's the future of words and that particular example. And the digital world being bits, bit or bits, we store them in many different ways, we transmit them in many different ways, but one has to go back to the roots.
Now the world that I come from, or spend my lifetime in has suddenly gotten very popular because of the net. What I'd like to do is give you a sort of quick characterization of sort of the demographics of the net. And what's going to happen within the next few years. Because, a lot of people, including the people who actually invented it, are in some sense underestimating it and don't really understand the long-term consequences. It's almost safe to say, I'm going to focus on the United States first. It's almost safe to say that there isn't a 15 year old American that isn't digitally literate, or at least participating in the digital world. And if I pull Nintendo and Sega out of the equation, it's still probably pretty correct. In fact, 85 percent of American teenagers have access to a personal computer at home. And that number, and even if it's slightly wrong and I've heard ranges going as low as 80, is an extraordinary phenomenon.
When the President and the Vice President talk about things like competitiveness, etc., they don't really mention that very often which puzzles me because it's really a distinguishing characteristic and something that will have an enormous impact a decade from now.
That's pretty well known. What used to be less well-known, but has received some press in the past few days, is that the second largest group in the United States to be becoming digital, there's a percentage of their age group per capita, are 60 years old and up. Now, this phenomena is really quite extraordinary. I didn't believe it when I first heard it and did a little more looking into it and in fact, gave a presentation to a group called "Senior Net" a few years ago and this is an organization that's existed for quite a while. It was their 10th anniversary. And it was unbelievable. I mean, I had goose bumps on my goose bumps. The average age in the audience was 70. I met an 85 year old woman who was teaching a 102 or 103 year old lady about the web and how to access it. One lady got up after I'd talked and was supposedly, and I'm not quite sure what it was supposed to be, but was a "respondent." And she got up and mentioned how ten years before she had retired, I forget what her job was in New York, she'd retired at the age of 65 and that what she was going to do when she retired was to go home, do housework and prepare to die. Those were her words. And then she described how she'd gotten on, at first it was CompuServe and then AOL and then the web itself. And she said, "You know what?" She said, "Today, my house is a mess." (laughter) "And I have no time to die, I'm much too busy." And it was extraordinary because people--there are some people and they'll remain nameless who are characterizing what's going on out there in cyberspace as confining and dangerous and all sorts of, I get so burned up I don't even want to try and characterize it. And what's really happening for a lot of people and what I saw in that room at Senior Net was kind of a window was opening. And there was, as one gets older and maybe mobility becomes harder or your world might close in some way, that here there was a kind of new kind of opening. And it's happening in this country where you have this huge population of kids which we know about, this other population which is becoming a little bit more known about and in the middle, I used to call them and still do actually, the "digital homeless" exist.
Now, let's think about the "digital homeless." First of all, the only thing they've done wrong is that they've arrived on the planet too soon. Or too late, depending which group they want to be. In this country, this digital homeless are going to shrink away very, very quickly. There are much less than almost all the other countries in the world. But there still is this odd disconnect between the people who are in some very real sense the driver's seat of life, they run our country, they run our companies, they run our schools, they run all sorts of things, and these are the sort of people who sort of the out-lyers, they're not part of the digital world. Now, as I said, it's changing. I probably couldn't, two years from now, I probably couldn't even say that to an American audience. And it really is changing quite rapidly, kids are bringing their grandparents into this and their parents--though parents make less great students than grandparents. But, it's changing, changing very rapidly.
But if you move around and look at the rest of the world, and this is really quite, from my point of view, important to look at what's going on in the rest of the world because when I--about six years ago--suggested that in the year 2000 something there would be a billion users, people just laughed. They said that was an absolute joke. Well, it's not a joke and the number is real. There will be a billion users and it will happen sometime in the year 2000. But what's really surprising and is that at least half a billion of those people will be from developing nations.
Now before I talk about that let me just quickly look at Europe. Europe's a very, very funny situation. And you can almost take Europe as a triple-decker sort of sandwich, with three layers. And I mean that literally, geographically. And if you look at the Nordic countries, Scandinavia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, you have an absolutely amazing digital presence. You're talking about--you take any measure, and they are actually ahead of the United States. If you take and one measure which is commonly used is tele-density, which is the number of telephones per 100 people and Sweden is up in the 87, 88 range, the United States is down in the low 80's. There's 60 percent of the population of Finland is on the Internet. I mean it's absolutely incredible what's going on in those countries. Now it's actually explainable. People say, "Well why is it? Is it the long nights that they have in winter?" You know, "Are they doing this instead of drinking Vodka or..." so on.
And the answer is, there are many different answers and I don't want to take time--no one phenomenon accounts for it, but it is quite explainable. After that sort of layer, there's almost a thick black line, as if somebody took a magic marker and sort of drew a line across Europe and with the exception of England, which I'll leave out for a second. If you look at sort of the G-7 countries, you look at France and you look at Germany and so on, you have almost the exact opposite. You have some of the most undigital nations on this planet. Which I've characterized, at my last speech at the EU, is the third--our new third world. And you can imagine how popular that was. (laughter) But France and Germany are in a very--particularly France--are in a very poor position where you have in France less than five percent of the homes in France have personal computers in them. In Sweden it's a much higher average, something like 60 percent. So you look at some of these phenomenon and you say wait a second that doesn't really make too much sense. But in fact it does. The reason is that culturally there's a disconnect. And the cultural disconnect has to do mostly with a centralism that comes in the forms of government and particularly--a sense of how the world works.
I was involved in a, just parenthetically, in something called a "Junior Summit" which we're re-doing at the end of this year in the United States, but was done in Japan after the G-7 countries had a meeting that was two-and-a-half years ago on the information society. At this meeting, the heads of state that went brought with them an orbit of industrialists. In the case of the Prime Minister from Japan, he brought the Chairman of Sega with him. The Chairman of Sega had this very simple observation at the summit which was one of these double-breasted affairs with dinners with six forks on one side and six knives on the other and chandeliers and seven wine glasses. And you talk about the information society in that context and sort of wonder where the kids are. Where are the kids are, where are the people who are going to be living in that--he organized a junior summit that was for kids only. And the kids were on the stage, the kids were having a sort of break-out sections and the adults were in the audience. Now it was kind of badly organized, quickly organized and so on, but the summit itself that the kids attended was just extraordinary. It was unbelievably good. One of the topics that they addressed--and these were 11 to 15 year olds by the way. One of the topics that addressed was censorship on the net.
They were just one of about five or six and at the closing day, they were asked to present to the adults the results of their deliberations. And the group that had been discussing censorship was divided. They couldn't come to a resolution or conclusion, so they decided--rightly--that two kids from the group should present the two points of views, sort of the majority and the very dissenting point of view. So a 11 year old Italian kid gets up and talks about why you shouldn't have censorship and this remarkable--again his command of English was extraordinary and it was you know, it was everything that I would have hoped that a child would think and say. A 14 year old French boy got up afterwards and said, no the dissenting view is the following. The government knows better and the government has to protect us from information that's harmful. And he then went on to say and by the way, my future is to study very hard so I can go to a conseca(?) in France and the enon(?) and things like that and hopefully if I make it through those I'll work for the government. And I thought to myself, if a 14 year old thinks that way, can you imagine how long it's going to change? How long change is going to take for that country to go through? That the centralism is rooted so deeply that something like the Internet is just totally orthogonal, not just to the fact that they have a telecommunications policy or a cable television absence or something, it really is quite, quite deep.
Now if you drop to let me call them Mediterranean countries, while tele-densities aren't very high, they tend to be in the high 30's and low 40's, the countries as a whole are really potentially very, very digital nations and their telecommunications companies are quite frankly really screwing them. So what you have is, you have the telecommunications organizations in every Mediterranean country is a company that is trying to, or will be forced to go public and at least privatized in some short period of time. And so what they do is they go out and they're in acquisition mode. So whether it's the phone company in Italy or Spain, they're requiring phone companies and parts of phone companies all over the world using the subscriber's money, needless to say, to become sort of a more worthy stock when they go public. At the expense of not helping the infrastructure in their country.
And worse yet, charging very usurious fees. And you really have as a consequence all of the Mediterranean countries of Europe in a position where their children are really in trouble and not getting the kind of access that they ought to get but the society, the culture, particularly in Italy is so amenable to the digital world. You really have society that roots for the small guy. There's a lot of sort of mom and pop operations, a lot of sort of positive, the sort of small guy gets a lot of attention.
And there also are two other things that are happening. One is that you have an underground economy. Again, this resonates with the Internet. And again, more importantly, you have and always got to be very careful how I say this because I'm not trying to suggest any form of anarchy, but in a place like Italy you have what I call a very healthy disrespect for authority. Okay. And that's very digital, that's very much sort of in keeping with the Internet. So if you look at Europe I think you'll find in the next few years that countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, to a lesser extent Greece, will become very, very much faster part of this digital world than let's say Germany and the G-7 block of Europe, or at least that particularly part of it.
If you move around to the--lemme just skip over the Middle East and the sub continent for a second--just quickly look at Southeast Asia and just Asia in general. You would expect because of Japan and Korea, you would expect a very digital world, a very digital society because so much of the componentry comes from those parts of the world. Where in fact it's not. You don't, for again, cultural reasons, you don't have a very digital society in Japan, Korea, and certainly you don't have one, very much, in China at the moment with the exception of Hong Kong. Now, one of the reasons is of course Kanji. There has been a disconnect between--again, their, what I'll call "words" which really aren't words, but are more concepts illustrated in a much more complex writing mechanism. Now, why is there that disconnect? I think it's more cultural than it has to do with telecommunication.
My biggest interest these days is the rest of the world. You look at South America, when you look at Africa in particular. In South America you have a situation that is a lot better than most people realize. None of the 100 poorest countries in the world were in South America. You have a whole part of the world that speaks basically two languages. And what you find is that the tele-densities in those countries are actually quite high if you want a Trivial Pursuit or cocktail kind of question that nobody will ever get the answer to, it's, which is the only country in the Americas to have a purely 100 percent digital telephone system. And I mean there's not one analog switch--in our case, might be in Northern Maine someplace. And the answer is Uruguay. And one of the reasons you find these tele-densities that are starting to grow, particularly in Chile where it's been deregulated pretty recently, is that in many of those governments, people, particularly when it comes to education, are much more aggressive than we are. And they're much more aggressively partly because they realize that that is the asset. That their biggest natural resource is children. That may seem obvious, but what's happened is that most people when they look at development, haven't thought that much, that intellectual capital was a natural resource and they hadn't thought very much about telecommunications. When the World Bank lends money it tends to be for roads and dams, not telephone infrastructure. And yet today, if you go to some of the global meetings like the World Economic Forum.
I was in a session recently where I was listening to four or five heads of state from Africa and one person said the three most important things in development are telecommunications, telecommunications, and telecommunications. Well suddenly they get it. But. Unfortunately, in many of those nations, particularly in Africa--you won't believe this--but a lot of the nations get most of their hard currency from telecommunications. Because there's something called an "access fee" which is the extraordinary surcharge they put on phone calls. So when you call from Senegal to Mali(?) which is probably, if you arrange things appropriately, it's less than calling from Pasadena to Marina Del Ray. It's ten dollars a minute! Now why is it ten dollars a minute? The reason it's ten dollars a minute is that the government feels what they're doing is they are going to extract this hard currency from the people who can afford it. It's almost like a luxury tax. Problem is that telecommunications is a local phenomenon, a local jurisdiction. You can't break that, it's like a law of the nation. And if you don't like the law, tough, don't make phone calls. So the poorest parts of this world have the worst and most expensive telecommunications.
Which is a major problem.
And if you try and go in there and break it, then people say, well, what am I going to do for hard currency? It's a real dilemma when you sort of look around. Well, enough on that. Let me just say one more thing about the demographics of the net. And this is something people don't realize enough. The billion people that I'm convinced will be on the net in the year 2000. And I'm giving myself a 12 month slop of not saying sort of exactly when, will be extraordinarily overshadowed by the number of things that will be on the net. This is something people don't talk about. By things I mean everything from automobiles to refrigerators. But more importantly light bulbs, Barbie dolls, all sorts of stuff. The number of things on the net in the year 2000 could easily be a 100 billion.
Now, you say, I'm going to have at least a 100 or couple 100 things that'll have Internet protocol or I.P., so-called I.P. addresses, the answer is yes. There will be an awful lot of them. And the things that will start appearing on the net will at first be things like, oh, let me use cameras. There're already over 50,000 cameras connected to the Internet that you can log into and see what that camera sees. Now, I don't know if you've noticed. Mattel just announced a sixty-five dollar camera for Barbie. It's not Barbie who's taking the pictures, but it's a little camera for girls to use and it's quite an extraordinary piece of electronics that, for sixty-five dollars, allows you to take a picture and interface with your computer and weave it into electronic mail and to paste it onto Barbie dolls and do all that stuff. Imagine one of those cameras with a little bit of radio circuitry in it, sort of like a special purpose cell phone. An IP address of course. And maybe some Velcro so that you can stick it, or a hook that you can hang it. I'm sure everybody in this room would buy a few. If nothing else, you'd go and nail one on the tree just outside your house, just looking at your house. Okay. So when you're on your laptop at any moment you can just log into that IP address. I don't know how many people in this room travel a lot for business or whatever. But how many times have you come back from a trip, you're just making the last turn driving home, and you ask yourself, "Is my house there?" You know that kind of sort of feeling. Well you'll never have to do that again. It'll be with you and you can look at the plants and you can do all sorts of things.
Something as simple as that will start to account for a very large number of items on the Internet. Particularly, the cameras will be a little expensive, particularly low cost things like toys. I'm very fond of, and write about it and talk about it, sort of refrigerators that are intelligent. They know what's in them and they do all of that kind of stuff. And you see many people talk about that thing. Well, how many times in your life have you bought a refrigerator? So the truth is no matter how smart refrigerators get, the cycle time, in human acquisition of products like that is pretty low. But, toys is totally different. Toys flow into the American home. In fact, most toys are--that come out in one year were just designed during that year. So if you start putting Internet addresses and Internet circuitry into the toys, you're going to have a flow into the home that is much, much more compatible with the rate of change and the speed at which the net is changing.
So the demographics, while I'll talk about people because that's what's culturally important, the actual population of the net will be mostly things and not people. In fact, one of our groups at the Media Lab is working with an Everest Expedition in May. Because they're building wearable computers for the climbers so that they can monitor as they're climbing. And they will be an IP address. They'll even bring a camera with them and leave it on the top of Everest. Getting it there isn't hard, getting it to stay there is pretty hard. But it will be there for a while and you'll be able to log in and look out around the top of Mount Everest. And that sort of thing will happen more and more.
I wrote a few things that I wouldn't normally talk about, but giving that this is a cultural institution, let me talk first of all about language.
In December, two years ago, President Shiraque(?) of France was in Benime(?) to impeach--every two years, the Francophone companies have a meeting. The most recent one was in Vietnam. This was the one once before it. And when he gave his opening address, his opening address was that, this was the whole story but it was a major feature of this address, was that the Francophone countries had to unite to battle the use of English which was happening because of the Internet and was becoming a widespread, international language as a consequence. Now that was really pretty dumb. When I thought about it, first of all you have a man who comes from a nation whose, his ancestors when to this African nation and at the point of a gun got them to change from their native language to French. So. Look who's talking. But on the other hand, what he missed and what he completely still to this day, I fear, misunderstand is that what the net is doing is in fact giving languages all over the world a whole rebirth.
Now there are a couple of points here. I'm not sure I'm going to do them in the right order, but... The first is--actually I wrote, I couldn't resist, I wrote a story about it in Wired, sort of lambasting him as much as I could for that stupid remark. And pointed out in Switzerland that the language, Romunch(?), has about 30,000 speakers left and there are another 60,000 roughly in Northern Italy. And what's happened is, because of the Internet, kids are starting to be more interested in Romunch, and relatives that are effectively ex-patriots. And in fact, Romunch as a language has started to grow again. When I wrote that with some pretty fuzzy data to go on, I was sort of convinced this was happening, I started to get e-mail from Romunch speakers that it was true! That this is in fact happening and so on and so forth. So there really is a kind of new birth, or a new platform if you will, for these languages.
The second thing, which is certainly true, and that is that a German stepping into a taxi cab in Rome will speak to the driver in English. English has become sort of the most widely accepted second language. And you have this bizarre situation where you have more people learning English than speak English today. And it's sort of a--really, English is a very curious second language and it's been adopted. In fact, French--and this is a totally separate point--a French pilot landing an Airbus at Charles DeGaulle speaks English to the tower. And in fact, you would be very, very nervous if that weren't the case. The reason that convention was adopted is simply that means the other pilots can understand. In fact, to make you a little uncomfortable, there's one airport where that doesn't happen. And I see some nodding heads in the audience. It's Montreal. So the next time you land in Montreal, cross your fingers. But--what's happening is that air traffic control's use of English is basically what's happening on the net. There's an air traffic control form of English and then there's the content side of it.
The content side will not be dominantly English. It unquestionably ten years from now will be Chinese. But more importantly, between language translation and all sorts of things, we're going to see again, a real rise in multilingual systems and of course multilingual, in my opinion, it's not a 100 percent synonymous, but certainly leads to multicultural.
The second thing that's going to happen, which is closer to sort of my department of what the media lab has done for most of its life is to work on sort of non-verbal languages. And there really is an extraordinary change between today and 15 years ago in terms of the richness that a computer can display things with. And it's really is quite incredible. People in the room who can remember back 15, 20 years ago, it was a very parsimonious and sensory deprived world when it came to computers. The output side, unfortunately, is not matched by the input side. The use of a mouse and keyboard really hasn't changed. It hasn't changed very much for a number of reasons, but one of them is certainly that it's hard. It's hard to make machines that can see, machines that can hear and recognize gesture and so on. But all of that is coming. And all of it's coming pretty rapidly partly because there's now more and more demand for it. And the demand, again, is coming from cultures that aren't as dependent, or as comfortable with just using keyboards the way we do and maybe even the mouse. So, that will certainly be a change.
The change is quite interesting in what it will do to children. Children who go to school today and I can argue that when I went to school, there was really a right brain deprivation. If you want to think in terms of right and left brains at least metaphorically, it doesn't hold up probably in many other ways. We really didn't value that part of the brain that wasn't the serialist, compulsive, symbol manipulation side. And it was for reasons like that that art classes were always considered extracurricular and not really a part of--In fact, there's this amazing phenomenon where parents sort of love to see pre-school children making drawings and music and so on and suddenly, go to school, and you're told stop, that's not really--you should be doing this other stuff. There's this funny little disconnect that happened. Well that disconnect is changing because of computers. There is a, again, a much more visual world and it's going to happen for kids who are going to school now. And as they grow up, we'll again have a much greater visual literacy.
There's something else that's happening. Again, I'm going to use school as my example. When I went to school, I went to, for better or for worse, an all-boys school. But it was very multi-racial. And various schools I went to always had a very multi-racial sort of population. So as a consequence when I grew up, I really didn't understand at least, again viscerally, I didn't understand racial issues. My son, who's almost 28, this was a long time ago, my son went to co-educational schools all the time. And as a consequence, when he grew up, he had, I think it's fair to say, a much more sophisticated view of gender. You didn't really see gender issues. It was sort of, really, at least in the same way I had seen them--and of course the times were different and everything.
Well, kids going to school today, it is possible, and I think this is really quite likely, will not understand nationalism. Because suddenly, the whole world is at their fingertips. I mean a country's a click away. It's not the same as going there. But they're going to get much, much more access to the multi-cultural world, so that kids who are, let's say five years old today and 20 years, 30 years from now are not just in the work force, but affecting the planet, I think you're going to find a much, much more global population. And in some sense, I've kinda given up on adults. I think adults are kinda hopeless when it comes to things like big issues like peace, etc, etc. Kids on the other hand, if they grow up in a more global world, they might be much better at it than we are. Again, I'm sort of hoping that a great deal.
A few more things and then I'd like to leave a little bit of time for questions cause I can go on forever and I prefer to get some questions. But I want to make a quick remark, a pejorative one on the sort of interface between people and computers. I think we've arrived at a point in time where we have to make some pretty fundamental decisions about what we build and how we build it. By chance, Bill Gates and I were in South Africa at the same time. We knew we were both there, but neither of us had time to see the other. And I want to preface this story because if there's press in the room, it's going to come out that this is Microsoft lambasting. I've actually gotten to like Bill. The more the government picks on him, the fonder I've gotten of him as a person. But he was--we were both on the equivalent of the six o'clock news. And he was on the six o'clock news talking about how South Africans should buy the top of the line multi-media computer for their kids and the schools, and sort of give them the best there is, etc, etc. I was on the other TV station saying there's no room for Windows 95 in Africa. Because it's a fat, overweight, obese, too expensive, too big, too memory consuming system. Now, that didn't go over too well when you sort of put the two side by side. But the point is really very important. That what's happened--and this has really got to change, it's really got to change in order to make the digital world even more global than it is today. Is that what we have done, and the way I characterize it, is that every time Andy Grove makes a faster processor--every time, Intel makes a faster processor, Microsoft uses more of it. Intel makes a faster processor, Microsoft uses more of it and so on. And you and I basically see almost nothing.
In fact, if anything, our machines seem to run slower. Because every single release of every single program I am familiar with is slightly worse than the previous release. Okay. It's fatter, it has more options, it runs slower, it's more difficult to use. I would kill to get Word 2 back. (laughter) I remember when my son came home, he lives in Italy, he came home one day and he's "Dad, I've upgraded Word 4 to Word 6." And I said, "you what?!" And unfortunately when you do that you can't go back very often. And that, what that's tell you is that the computing increase, the extraordinary doubling that happens every 18 months is being used for the wrong purpose. What we're doing is making things more complex for complexity's sake. We haven't started using it for speech recognition sufficiently. We haven't started using it for--to make the interface, but that's going to change. Partly because enough people in the audience just applauded when I said I'd like Word 2 back, which means you agree. And so you want you want to see happen is you want to see that kind of computing put toward the quality of the interface, the quality of the experience, not the options that you can get and that the menu gets bigger and that the type gets smaller and all sorts of other things.
Totally separate is what do you do about some of the issues that are required getting computers into developing nations and so on. I've decided to spend a certain chunk of the rest of my life trying to sort of look at that and as part of it, have been involved with starting a foundation, the purpose of which is to bring computers and net access to kids in the 100 poorest nations of this world. And in sort of looking at that, you realize that tele-densities, that number I used before where it's sort of 88, 87 in Sweden. In Africa if you leave South Africa out of the equation, the number's 2. Two isn't bad if you look at rural parts of Africa, suddenly it's .001. A 100,000 villagers in China do not have a phone. The numbers are absolutely startling. Two-hundred million children don't get any primary education at all on the planet. And then you say, well how much would it cost to fix that? Of course, you can't really--but the estimates of how much it would cost to change that in terms of teacher training, building physical schools, etc., forgetting the cultural impediments. Just the cost. Is less than 50 percent of what we spend on golf. Okay, it's not a big number. Okay, in fact, to change it is not the--the impediments aren't money. The impediments are all sorts of other things, but they also do include bringing access. So how do you change that?
Well, one way to change it of course is to use satellites and so on which was mentioned in the introduction. There are two flavors of satellites. There are those that we tend to read about most of the time, which are stationary and they're used the broadcast television, etc, etc. They will be used and they'll start to be used more and more because there are ways to communicate back and they're sort of being invented. And one of the reasons, just so you realize, is that those satellites are so far up, they're 22,500 miles up. And that's a long way to go. So it's not as if a little handset is going to make it from here up to that satellite. But there are ways, inexpensively, of putting dishes and things that don't cost that much on schools and villages, etc. to have the two-way communication and see that as a form of Internet access.
The second way is to use much lower orbiting satellites. Satellites that are anywhere from 200 to 500 miles up. But what those satellites have to do so that they don't come plummeting to Earth is that they gotta rotate a lot faster so you get many of them rotating and you make like a cellular telephone system. The first of which is Iridium that will go on, turn on at the end of September. Well those satellites, in the case of Iridium, there are 66 of them, means that at any point in time, wherever you are on this Earth, you can see a satellite. And that means that you can basically have a single handset that will be useable all over the world. Well, unfortunately, Iridium as a product was conceived in the 80's and was optimized for voice, so it's bandwidth is not very high. It would be hard, if not impossible to use it for Internet connections. But the next wave will come along and will be much more suitable. So that gives you a chance to suddenly look at the planet a little more globally and provide to schools the kind of access they don't have today.
Fortunately, as you have these low Earth orbiting satellites, there are, the places where you'd want to get the service also happen to be the places that aren't going to be using the satellite too much for business people to call business people. So as the satellite is going over parts of Africa the chances are, you can argue that you'll be able to get some free time, or at least use it very inexpensively. And that's probably true for the next generation. It isn't true for the current generation. What that will do, is again, quickly change things if the regulatory side of the house will change. And as I've said before, when a country gets most of its hard currency from ripping off its telecommunications, long-distance users. They are not going to very quickly acquiesce to using these satellites because you have to, this is the way the world works in telecommunications, you've got to give the satellite landing rights. If you don't have landing rights, you're in deep trouble.
Now, Motorola in this case could decide that they'll turn off the satellite when it's over the country, etc. But, more importantly, even if they didn't do that, you certainly don't want to go marching around Kenya with an Iridium telephone if they don't have landing rights. You'll just find yourself in jail if you use it. So there does have to be country, by country, which is awfully painstaking, agreements on the telecommunications infrastructure. Whether it's in the sky or in the ground. Which is a bit of a problem.
And in fact is a very serious problem.
One last, just because people always ask me what are some of the fun and new and interesting and wild things that we do in the media lab, I'm almost going to make a complete sort of segue here to something that isn't a direct continuation, but so that you don't leave this room and say, "well, all we heard about was the geopolitical sort of status of telecommunications."
Let me describe one project that we're doing at the media lab that's sort of fun and different and may find its use five, six years from now. And that is, it was also mentioned in the introduction, the concept of wearable computers. And the reason wearable computers are interesting is that it's a totally, sort of physically you've got to make different computers.
We've actually weaved them, we actually have stitching machines that stitch circuits into jackets and make clothing that are--in fact, you can even launder them, which turns out to be one of the more serious issues. You certainly don't want a wearable computer you can't wash. But, what the students have invented, and we work in this case a lot with Nike, is they've invented some technology that no only puts the computer in the sneaker, but it also--again this is parenthetical--it derives its power from walking. So in other words, I'm pacing now, I'd be charging up this computer. When you walk you generate about 10 watts, when you run, you generate about 100 watts, and all of that gets pushed into the floor, carpet, or Earth, whatever. But the most important piece is they've invented the way to deliver the signals through the body. Literally, as if you were a piece of copper. The signal goes through your body. Now, this is very low voltage. This is less voltage than you get when you wear a headset for a Walkman. But it means I can deliver a 100,000 bits per second, literally from my right foot to my left foot using the body. Now, the reason that's sort of interesting is that if I have a computer--if I had my wrist watch on, it could be the display, cause the signals come from the body through the display, you won't have to look like the back of your desk basically (laughter) is what I'm saying.
You could make a ring, two rings. One ring is a microphone, one ring is the speaker. And literally walk down the street, placing a phone call because all the circuitry goes through your body. But when the students did this, it turns out that it also means that if you shake someone's hand, you could also exchange 100,000 bits per second. (laughter) And this is actually, goes even a step further. It means if you touch something, you can deliver or receive, again, up to 100,000 bits per second. And it's, the consequences are quite--one consequence and then I'll quit and open it up to questions--is that personally I've been interested recently in digital cash, digital money. This isn't credit cards, this isn't debit cards, these are little ones and zeros that have real value that you can move around the way you move cash, but it's bits. And this means you could literally go to an ATM machine, punch in your number, ask it for a few 100 dollars, and then it says hold your finger on the "one" key while it downloads $100 into your sneaker. And then when you have to pay somebody in a store, you just shake their hand and you sort of transfer the payment. In fact, I said this to a group of bankers recently and my host was in the front row getting redder and redder. And I said, "Oh God, what have I said?" And when he got up to thank me, he said, bright red in the face, he said, "I'm going to have to rethink kissing my wife good-bye in the morning."
Question: You mentioned Intel raising processing power and software taking it up, don't we have the same problem on the Internet and bandwidth?
Nicholas: The question was, do we have the same thing with the net that we have with Intel raising its power and the complexity of systems. The answer is yes we do. But we have it for a different reason. When you read, you read a book at roughly 600 bits per second. When you look at television, you look at television at roughly 3 million bits per second. So what's happening is that it's not so much there's a conspiracy as I would suggest that the other is, but you're going to get more and more bandwidth hungry means of communication. So that as the net doubles, which it's been doing faithfully for two decades in terms of its population. Each year, this has happened for the past three years, each human on the net is using eight times more bandwidth than they did the previous year. So you have a tendency which is a problem but nature will catch up. And fiber will come to the home and there will be other things. But it's also a natural phenomenon where people who run web sites that are really slow are catching on that they'd better make it more parsimonious or people are going to leave. So it's a little bit of self-controlling in that. But you're correct, there is a dilemma and it's going to resolve itself. Because eventually, if you have enough fiber and enough fast switches, you know, it will as a "problem" go away. I just finished a Wired story on that very issue and what is the real dilemma is that when you find something that's slow on the net, you've got realize that speed is a function of the weakest link in the chain. And the weakest link is very often inter-country links. I have more bandwidth into my home than the nation of Switzerland does on the Internet. And when you think about it, one of the reasons is that the countries, especially the ones with the government-owned PTT, have no interest in seeing that bandwidth increase that much. Because we'll start using it for telephony, we'll start using it for all sorts of things. And the amount of income is going to be taken away from traditional telephony by the Internet over the next two years is absolutely phenomenal. So there are political as well as technological reasons.
Question: At the time of Tiannanmen Square, there was great optimism that we'll achieve the kind of decentralized communication network, that it was really a tool for destroyingTotalitarianism, that Totalitarianism was incompatible with that... Are you still optimistic?
Nicholas: Well as a self-professed optimist. Yes. But I think there's also, there's reason--I've decided since the MIT media lab occupies much of my attention, if I want to learn something, I do an absolutely crazy thing. I invest in it. And I invested in an Internet Service Provider in Beijing just to find out the question that you're asking. And what's happening is since you need the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications and the Ministry of Electronics, which recently merged, you need their permission. That they're realizing that the--they can't make an Intranet. They can't make a China only net. And it's not like the Opium Wars. That's a really crummy analogy and I've heard it many, many times. But what they are begging for is Chinese content. And the Chinese content, the rate of growth right now is very high and as a consequence you're going to see, in China particularly, an enormous, very rapid growth. I'll tell you one of the reasons why I'm very optimistic about it. I've gone to Hong Kong literally 100's of times, but I've never been to Beijing before last year. What I realize and maybe it's kinda obvious, is that in China the commitment that a family has to the education of their child is so extraordinarily enormous. There's this cultural force that I've just never seen before. Is going to push it so that the kids can have access to computers and they're going to have anything to advantage--so it's the strong cultural force toward education for their children which is really going to make it happen in China much. In Burma, of course, it's still a capitol punishment to have access without permission so you're going to have a kind of--some screwy situations which I hope will change pretty fast too.
Question: Thinking about education, you talked a lot about access and kids having access, the question is for what purpose? I'd like to ask you if you have, on the Internet, you have access to all sorts of information all over the world. We know that education consists partly of parking information to people or helping them to get it. But there's also something called thinking, researching and so forth. I wonder if you would comment on that.
Nicholas: The question, I don't know if you all heard that... yes, nodding heads in the back row. Fine. Here's my answer to the question and it's a very genuine question and it's asked very frequently because people go even further than you and say, well it's all noise, there's nosignal out there, nothing beats a good teacher. You know, there's that's kind of argument. And what I have come to sort of look at the net and the access is more as a means of passion. One of the things that schools seem to do a good job of is getting rid of the passion for learning. And what happens on the net is kids starting playing with, just peer to peer, little games where they send messages through language translators to other kids in other nations. All of a sudden, they're doing a homework problem on something and they list all of their references or URLs or HTTP addresses of one sort or another. They start doing--and what I've seen and what gives me the optimism--is in schools it's not that, it's sort of a passion and the playfulness that you see on the soccer field is brought back into the area which sort of has to do with playing with knowledge. Playing and sort of being curious and being interested. There's a real fallacy that if kids spend time on the net they're going to become anti-social. And what happens is in fact the opposite. The kids who spend time on the net come off a little bit more interesting and interested. It's almost as if, I don't know how to say it, but again, it's generational, but kids are, or friends, myself, you know, you go to Europe for your junior year or a summer vacation and you come back feeling a little bit bigger than you did and you sort of saw the world from a differentpoint of view and so on. I think those are the things the net's going to bring. It's not going to displace teaching and good teachers and so on. But I vote on passion. That's my simple answer.
Question: One of the things that I've been reading about in Wired magazine is sort of an extension of what we've been talking about, is the word "technology" as a part of human evolution and that somehow we're going to tap technology into the human synapses and it will somehow have humans evolve--I wonder if you have any comments about what that might be?
Nicholas: It's interesting that the guy who wrote about wearables in Wired the guy who had a computer in his shoe and broke Las Vegas. I don't know if you realize that, but they had really done, it became illegal to bring computers into casinos after he did it. So he actually had quite an experience in wearables, the first one that I was familiar with. There's a piece of wearables that hasn't been exploited, it hasn't been in my opinion explored enough which is a mild version of what you're talking about. And that is to just use it for medical reasons. Just being able to monitor and communicate, we do--in terms of medical instrumentation on your body that communicates with a doctor or whatever it is, is extraordinarily low today. There's very little of it. And so yes wearables will progress in that way. Now where, how far do you go? If we really had a good vision system which we might have 20, 30 years from now, do you implant those in people? Do you--will the deaf hear? Will the blind see? Yes. I think the deaf will hear and I think the blind will see. And whether it's through a wearable or imbedded or whether you swallow it. We have people in the lab working on edible computers. And which you do--you swallow this thing and at the end--you know, it's broadcasting as it goes through you and you could literally build plumbing in a home that analyzes this little computer as it goes down the drain. And there's all sorts of things like that that will happen. How far they go to sort of change the long-term human evolutionary process is... I'm not good at that sort of speculation.
Question: If unfettered cryptography will prevail in the U.S. and how important is it?
Nicholas: If people aren't familiar with what cryptography is. It's the means of making messages secure, private, so on and so forth. I think that... Yes, is my answer. I think it will prevail. I hope it does in the next six months. Because there's some things in Congress that could really help if they get passed. The reason, again, people may--you obviously know the issues--but people up in the audience who don't you should recognize that it's a real dilemma because if you provide the technology for people to make perfectly secure telephone calls and computer communications, that in turn makes it difficult for the government to wiretap. And wiretap--literally in the sense of sort of monitoring what's being sent as e-mail. It's a real--I've sat in meetings with people from the DEA and the FBI and the CIA and they say, look, if you do it, we're going to see more Oklahoma bombings. All you have to do is being able to persuade somebody that you can stop one Oklahoma bombing by not having, not allowing the unfettered cryptography. And it's a very powerful case. There's not a Congressman or Senator who's ever going to get up and say that he wants to do anything that might be create more bombings. On the other hand, this is the dilemma, there's no way of stopping unfettered cryptography. In this country, what we do is we make it illegal to export it. We have no law against importing it. And the export law doesn't make sense. It's as if we think that people in Libya and Columbia are going to start waiting for Federal Express packages to arrive with the cryptography code. And it's not the way it's going to work. They come here, buy it off the shelf like you and I can do and go back. So as a consequence, today, people who have amongst the best security and privacy of the world are the drug dealers and terrorists. So it's a real dilemma. So the question's a very powerful, but very important one. But the answer is it's going to have to be unfettered. Like it or not, that's the way it's going being. And the good side of that is the privacy and security we will enjoy as individuals.
Question: In thinking about the future of the word, no matter how global or accessible the connection is, if I don't know that language that word isn't meaningful. Do you see perhaps another kind of information delivery system that's more global?
Nicholas: There are lots of people now working on automatic translation. And some, it's been going on for years. One of the things that happens on the net, especially in a conversation, is that you can start exchanging words and they can be mapped in to the other language. In fact, I was saying to my host earlier that one of the things we're dealing with is when I write a word in English, I'm using an editor for example, and I'm writing an English sentence. That editor, if it were trying to prepare itself for translation can ask me questions. And if you're willing to answer them--for instance, if I type the word "minister" it could come back and say "church or state?" And you say "church." Now the word "church" doesn't appear, it's kinda hidden back there, but when it comes down to translate that into another language, a minister in the church and the minister in a government may be totally different words in that language. And if I have "church" back there, I'll have a much better chance translating it. So I'll think you'll see a lot of changes in translation which aren't the ones we're familiar with historically, where you try to understand and try to move it one way. But that use some of the interactivity of computing. So. We'veactually set up one where we think by August we can have a version working for kids to talk to any other kid in any other language. And the secret to that is to get the kids of the planet to build a dictionary. So we'll go from Urdo(?) to Swahili to Walof and so on. The kids have to build a dictionary.
Question: As the net grows, search engines have been getting better, but still really will the object of the new ways of getting where you want to get on the net if you don't know where you want to go to begin with is the cause of a slight breakdown in efficiency.
Nicholas: The question is, simplifying it, is that the growth of material on the net is such that search engines, in fact, today, they, I don't know about you, I find the results of search engines less and less interesting because there's so much noise out there and plus there's so much stuff and so what is going to happen?
Well certainly people will get better at making search engines because key words just don't work. Okay. So you've got to be able to move beyond key words. If you want to findm stories on urban poverty, there's no reason to believe the word "urban" or "poverty" will be in the story. It's a concept and it's very complicated. Linguistically, you've got to do all sorts of things. But there's something else that's happening which is, it's gotten the name "social filtering" which is you know, I'm not sure I really like it as a name, but it's the following. Let me describe it with a story, how it was, the first version of it, which came out about four years ago at the media lab, was a program that recommended music. And what it did is it sent you a 100 music titles and you said "I like it" or "I don't like it" or "I don't know it." And once you answered that if you asked it for a recommendation it could look at the other people--let's pretend everybody in the auditorium was part of that system, it could look for who had another chain of ones and zeros that was the most similar to yours. And then see what piece of music that person had listened to recently and liked and recommend it to you. Now, statistically, there's no artificial intelligence, statistically there's a very high likelihood that you're going to like it. And if you don't like it you say so and it changes that one, the system gets better over time. The kid who did this put it over the net in I think it was the first week of December and in two weeks he had 17,000 subscribers and 5,000 pieces of music in the system. If any of you use Amazon.com where it recommends a book, that's basically the technique it's using. Now, I think that will be added to search engines. Where you sort of get the social energy of people, of like-minded search angle, or imagine doing this for web pages. Let's just say the system, here, just take my bookmarks and from those, each day, recommend me a site to look at. And what I'll do is correlate those and probably get, again, it's dealing with the subjective, beyond what we can do with better search engines linguistically. So I think you'll see those sorts of things for search engines. I think those are the things that are going to end up wiping out pornography by the way. I think it's going to be that kind of sort of evolution in searching which will include not just smarter search engines, but including some social energy in the search process itself.
Question: What is your view on professors feeling redundant because of the Internet and maybe losing their jobs?
Nicholas: First of all, it's a specific example. It's a funny one to pick because if I had a professor on my faculty who was afraid to lose his job because of a computer, I don't think I'd want him on my faculty. But there really is an issue. Is the net, will it create more jobs than it displaces? And again, my optimistic view of the world is it will create more jobs than it displaces. The question is the jobs which aren't displaced, is there carry forward? Is there really room for those people in the new kinds of jobs that evolve? And perhaps more than ever before, there is room because when you went, for example, from farming to factory, you didn't bring much with you. Or from a factory to an office. If we now sort of start automating the office, which we haven't done, anybody in an office here knows there're probably more people in an office now than there were ten years ago. And not necessarily because the business grew. So you if start off automating white collar jobs, where are those people going to go? And I think there's a little carry forward which adds to my optimism. So, my view of employment over the next 20 years, because of the digital world is that the largest employer in the United States for sure will be "self" twenty years from now. And if you believe that, at least I do, I think you'll see a much more entrepreneurial evolution. And yes, some people are going to lose their jobs whether they're professors or not. We have this terrible institution I'd like to get rid of called "tenure." Professors probably wouldn't lose it as fast as some of them should.
Question: Are you a tenured professor?
Nicholas: I tried to give mine back but they didn't know how to take it.
Question: I was struck by your statement that the deaf will hear and the blind will see. This reminded me of statements made by Marshall McLuhan, his famous Playboy interview decades ago predicting what computers would bring before humankind. And he said that the general adoption of computers will adopt an era of universal peace and harmony. And he also said computers would bring about the mystical body of Christ. These are millennial predictions. I wondered if you would mind commenting on that aspect. Does this seem to you technology as a religion? Are we selling technology to beat--how explicitly is this division and how do you feel about that?
Nicholas: The audience should know I spent five minutes talking with this man before. So I kind of know his background, I got to be careful. My thin understanding of your field is that so much is based and derived and deals with just sheer faith. There aren't explanations. I don't think I have to do that in the digital world. I think I have a lot more to build some of these arguments. And while it sounds--I think it's so naive, I can't even imagine that I'm saying it--but I actually believe you will see things like world peace through better communications, through kids and so on. That that will not be based on faith, it will be based on the fact that kids will be able to communicate better with each other. They'll understand each other better. And there's this thing today that is just kind of, you know, a phenomenon because most people in this world don't get to see the world and be in the world as kind of a planet yet. Is that, you know, as soon as somebody doesn't look like you or doesn't think like you... there is a certain friction that is automatically built up. You don't trust them suddenly. Or you don't quite know how to react. I think that will start to change. I think it will start to change in a very positive way. I wish I had--I never met McLuhan but he clearly was 50 years ahead of his time. I think I only have a chance for one more question.
Question: I wonder what computers do for creativity with children, if it robs them or enhances their ability to create?
Nicholas: What a wonderful last question. I think that creativity, whatever it means, and it means many things, is probably the single most important thing that a human being can have. And we can help sort of nurture. The few things we know about creativity are for one, it comes from differences. If you have, for example, a very homogeneous society in a very kind of homogeneous environment, you have less option for creativity. It happens in the United States when people say we have all the Nobel Prize winners, we've done percentage wise--and so on, one of the reasons is it's such a heterogeneous place. And so I think if the heterogeneity that is such an important part of creativity. And where new ideas come from and challenging and kind of the positive side of sort of argument and critique and so on and so forth, is enhanced by the digital world. Because, suddenly it isn't a homogenous world out there. And you're going to see sites that annoy you and people that sort of will have totally different points of view.
And one of the things we never seem to understand is teachers. Now, my teaching tends--the little bit I do these days--to be with older people. But, even with--we have this unwritten assumption that the best way to know something is from one way. Which is totally way. The only way you can know something is from multiple points of view. And then you might start to understand it. I think that the reason creativity will be enhanced is that people will know things from multiple points of view. And they'll be multiple means of expression. It won't be that just writing is kind of the good one and painting is kind of for sissies. It's going to be much more plural world, both in terms of expression and in terms of points of view.