write software. He compared this with the first Alto microcomputer built at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the late 1970s. This feat required a great deal of microcoding, which is virtually obsolete today. Microcoding was the only way to operate the Alto, because systems then lacked sufficient processor speed and physical space for memory.

He also suggested that fiber optic technology might provide a powerful growth boost to communication technology, as long as it is possible to move from electronic to optical switching. The same might happen in computers, thanks to the RISC-based architecture that has increased the number of operations that can be done per cycle of clock speed. Thus, the future of information technology would depend not only on semiconductor productivity but also on major jumps in other technologies.

The Challenge of Finding Real Value in Technology

Bill Raduchel observed that the most interesting problem over the next decade rests not so much in creating new technology but in figuring out how to do something useful with it. New technologies are growing faster than consumers can absorb them. Virtually anything is possible, he said, and if it isn’t possible now, “give me one year or two years or three years of these growth rates and it will be.” The challenge is to find real value in all the new technology. It is useful to change outmoded business practices and to clean up software systems. The understanding at Sun Microsystems is that innovations have no value unless consumers see that value and use it. The upside may not be in the raw bits but in finding an application for the new technology. He mentioned having talked with people who spend large amounts of money for cellular licenses without having a plan for how to use them. He termed this development “scary”—a willingness to invest in expensive technologies without any ideas for using them.

Jon Baron asked whether the cost of semiconductors is becoming a larger or smaller share of computer costs. Dr. Spencer answered that a semiconductor’s share of the cost of a personal computer is about 40 percent today versus about half that a decade ago.

A Leap in Internet Access

Lee Price commented on a recent survey by the Commerce Department on home Internet access.12 He said that (although he did not have precise figures) the trend in access was climbing steeply. For home ownership of computers he

12  

U.S. Department of Commerce. 2000. Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion. Washington, D.C.: Economics and Statistics Administration and National Telecommunications and Information Administration.



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