Internet’s future on display at Singularity University

March 4, 2010

CNET correspondent Daniel Terdiman shadowed Executive Program participant Rob Nail during one of his first days at Singularity University’s Winter 2010 Executive Program.

The Internet of the future is an intelligent network capable of proactively acting on our needs, following us wherever we go, helping provide us with focused health care, and possibly ushering in a new energy paradigm.

This is the vision that James Canton, CEO of San Francisco-based Institute for Global Futures think tank, shared with students in the executive program of Singularity University. His broad-reaching, theoretical talk here Wednesday touched on many of the same elements of the all-encompassing network more or less overlaid on people’s consciousnesses in science fiction by the likes of Vernor Vinge. Still, Canton’s vision seemed plausible, particularly in light of the curriculum of so-called exponential technologies being taught at Singularity University, which kicked off its first classes last summer.

Canton’s vision of this future Internet begins with four key drivers: telepresence, mobility, artificial intelligence, and specific vertical market segments such as health care.

In a straw poll of the 40-odd students in the Singularity program, the majority felt that mobility was the most important of those drivers, and Canton said this made sense given that billions of people use the Internet and that the figure will only grow. The idea, then, would be for the Internet of the future to comprise large numbers of networks talking to nodes that are independently communicating with one other, “having their own conversation,” he said.

Indeed, Canton predicted a future in which the Internet is embedded just about everywhere: in every imaginable kind of object — from TVs to phones to walls — and that every product and device (even people) will have an IP address. He added that while such a vision may seem distant, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved a chip that could be embedded in people’s bodies. In Miami, he noted, the latest fad is women wearing clothes with chips embedded that can be scanned to verify their identities so that they don’t need to carry purses.

Similarly, he said, government workers in Mexico City can’t get into buildings without having some sort of wearable identification chip. […]