Future will put computer world at your feet

NIGEL WILLMOTT

There will be no trouble lugging around the computer of the future: it will be built into a running shoe. No problems with battery failure, either - just charge it up with a spot of jogging.

This, according to Nicholas Negroponte, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is just a glimpse of the wired-up, computer-integrated future. Even the human body could become part of the information superhighway.

Mr Negroponte, founder and director of MIT's Media Lab, told the Milia multimedia conference in Cannes yesterday that rewritable books will be made of electronic paper.

Technological trends already make feasible such paper, which would allow 200 leaves to be bound like a traditional book. The spine of the book would plug into a computer for loading. Once the book had been read, it could be erased and new content loaded in the language and text required.

He outlined a range of new technologies the MIT lab was working on which he categorised as "Things That Think".

He forecasts that a miniaturised input device like a digital watch could be linked to a shoe-mounted computer processor using the body itself as a communications link. In theory, he said, it was possible to transmit information through blood and bone at 100,000 bits per second. This compares with 28,000 bits per second for the fastest modems at present used on the Internet.

In Mr Negroponte's "wired" future, colleagues could meet for a business conference, simply shaking hands with each other and later print out each others' calling cards from the database in their shoe.

These were for the future, however. More immediately he forecast that the value of advertising revenues on the Internet will grow from last year's $20m to $1bn this year. Fully on-line business transactions will also take off, with the creation of a secure digital cash transfer system by the end of the year.

As revenue from these sources grows, he forecast subscriptions to Internet service providers will fall to nothing and eventually people might even be paid to link into the network.

He also forecast the parallel development of an "invisible" digital cash system, which will "give the treasuries of the world dyspepsia" as they lose the ability to monitor international financial flows. It could, he believes, be the final nail in the coffin of the nation state.

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