Plunging Headlong into the Next Digital Decade

Looking back over the past ten years, so much has happened in the world of digital communications, it’s almost impossible to remember the “bad old days” of slow-loading web pages and clunky Internet interfaces.

And yet, that was the norm for many web users at the beginning of the decade.

So what’s in store for the upcoming decade? When you consider that a 120-minute movie file can be downloaded about as quickly as a single web page these days, how could data processing and download times get any faster than they are already?

Certainly, if the world continues with transistor-based computer chip designs, there’s very little room for further improvement. That’s because today’s chips continue to be based on the original 1958 Shockley transistor design – except that they contain many more transistors along with circuits that have been engineered smaller and smaller — down practically to the size of an atom.

We can’t get much smaller than that without a radical new design platform. And now, along comes “quantum computing” which goes well beyond the traditional binary system of using ones and zeros in information processing. The betting is that so-called “qubits” – quantum processor units – will become the new design paradigm in the 2010s that will dramatically increase processor speed and power once again.

[An alarming side effect of quantum processing, however, is the possibility that computers will become so much more powerful that current methods of encryption will become obsolete. Clearly, new ways of protecting information will need to be developed along with the new speed and capabilities.]

In tandem with the new advancements in data processing power and speed, industry prognosticators such as Wired magazine’s chief editor Chris Anderson are predicting that bandwidth and storage will become virtually free and unlimited in the coming decade. As a result, it’s highly likely that the decade will be one of much greater collaboration between people in “peer to peer” creation and sharing of information and media, online and in real-time. Think Facebook on steroids.

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