Friday, October 30, 2009

Internet and aeroplanes, some interesting parallels

No, I'm not writing about the move to equip long-haul flights with wireless internet connections for passengers and their laptops.

I'm talking about the fact that this week the internet celebrated its 40th birthday.

From some crudely interconnected computers back in 1969 to the now ubiquitous "world wide web", the internet has grown far beyond anything that Leonard Lleinrock ever envisaged when, forty years ago, he and some colleagues started hooking a few computers together.

Of course the first thing that happened with that hookup was that the login application crashed. Thank goodness we now have vastly improved software for without it, the Net would never have gotten off the ground.

Like many things relating to computers, the growth of the net has been somewhat exponential and after that initial 1969 hookup, things progressed only very slowly. In fact, even 12 years later in 1983 there were still little more than 200 computers comprising the whole internet.

One of the major growth spurts took place in the late 1990s, when the ready availability of low-cost dial-up modems and an abundance of ISPs saw increasing numbers of "ordinary people" discovering the delights that were to be had online.

Today it is estimated that there are some 1.7 billion people who use the internet.

But what's this got to do with aircraft?

Well strangely enough, aviation seems to have followed a similar growth path.

Once the Wright brothers established the viability of heavier-than-air flight back in 1903, the growth of the fledgling aviation industry slowly began to grow and expand.

It took almost forty years before commercial passenger flights became commonplace and recreational aviation was an affordable pastime.

If we compare the state of the aviation industry in 1943 with that of the current day, perhaps we get a little insight into where the internet may be headed.

These days, people think nothing of committing their lives and valuables to regular long-haul flights and flying has become just another part of living in the 21st century.

Perhaps the internet will continue to invade our businesses and all aspects of our day-to-day lives.

While some approach cloud-computing with the same trepidation that those early pioneers approached leaving the safety of the ground, it's only a matter of time before we feel confident in committing all our valuable data, information and services to "the ether" that makes up
the internet.

And, just as the aviation industry became a key component of war in the 1940s, it now seems that the internet constitutes a new frontline battlefield -- with cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism "hot topics" within the halls of many nations' defense departments.

Just as recent military conflicts have shown the crucial importance of air-power in war, so we will see online strategies and weapons becoming increasingly important in future battles.

That there are so many similarities between the growth of aviation and the growth of the internet seems to indicate that the human race has a tenacious ability to harness technology and adapt it quickly to the needs of the moment - that bodes well for our future on the planet.

Although most people recognise the internet as a huge step forward in our technological evolution, I'm picking that we have yet to feel the full import of its might. The best is yet to come.

The synergy that the combined knowledge and expertise the Net can bring together may well see huge advances in other areas of science and technology.

Now that we really do have a global community of scientists and researchers who can collaborate over great distances in real-time, look out for even more impressive breakthroughs in a wide range of fields.

The internet is big -- but it's going to get a lot bigger.

Comparatively speaking, we're still using Tiger Moths and DC3s to move our data around. It's only a matter of time before we roll out the cyberspace equivalents of the Jumbo Jet and the Concorde. That's when the real fun will begin!

I just hope I live long enough to see a good deal of the internet's future. However, I've already been asked "what was it like before the internet?" by several inquiring youngsters.

Oh dear, just like the internet, I must be getting old.

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