Chapter 1: Information Technologies
Americans are so accustomed to the presence of computers in our daily
lives that we are amazed to discover that early computer experts did not
foresee much demand for these specialized machines. For example, the chairman
of IBM, Thomas Watson, stated in the 1940s, There is a world market
for maybe five computers. Since then,
a succession of breakthroughs has created a new economic sector: Information
Technologies (IT) the ever growing variety of ways in which we
are able to gather, store, analyze, share, and display information.
Estimates of the total number of computers in the world now exceed 500
million, or more than triple the total in 1991. The proportion of U.S.
households with computers has jumped from 15 percent to more than 40 percent.
U.S. schools now count one computer for about every six students, up from
one machine for every 63 students in the mid-1980s.
The economic implications of this growth are unmistakable. Between 1995
and 1998, producers of computer and communications hardware, software,
and services accounted for an average of 35 percent of the U.S. gross
domestic product (GDP). During this same period, IT represented 60 percent
of U.S. corporations capital investments. On average, 20 U.S. technology
and telecommunications companies are born every day. Industries that are
either major producers or intensive users of IT products and services
will employ half the U.S. workforce by 2006. These jobs will pay significantly
higher wages than jobs in other
sectors. For example, in 1996, the 7.4 million people employed in the
IT sector and in IT-related jobs across
the economy earned an average of about $46,000 per
year, compared to an average of $28,000 for jobs across the entire private
Historical Importance of Federal Funding
Much of the innovation that spawned todays information technologies
resulted directly from Federal investment
in science and technology. Starting in 1969, when the Department of Defense
opened its experimental nationwide computer network through the Advanced
Research Projects Agency (ARPA), computer networking has especially benefited
from Federal research and development funding. The National Science Foundation
(NSF) extended ARPAs network to civilian academic users in 1987.
These networks marked the convergence of computing and communications,
one of the main drivers of information technologies in the 1990s. Networking
linking computers together to share data has since become
one of the fastest growing areas of computing. The Internet emerged from
the joint effort by Federal agencies and universities to advance networking
Federal agencies also contributed to the steady decrease in the size
of computers and the exponential growth of computing power. The transformation
from expensive, room-size computers to laptops vividly illustrates the
way science and technology, through a series of chance events, sometimes
lead us in unforeseen directions.
The period between 1947 and 1960 saw many separate but ultimately related
breakthroughs that combined to produce a revolution in computer hardware.
Electrical engineers invented the transistor and later developed the integrated
circuit; materials scientists discovered semiconductors and the uses of
silicon; and physicists developed the laser. The laser, once seen as an
interesting but unpromising technology, has become the signal beacon that
we use to transmit information, carrying light waves over optical-fiber
networks that connect many parts of
the globe. The laser also led to fundamental advances in lithography,
the process used to etch transistors onto silicon chips to form modern
microprocessors. In 1949, Popular Mechanics predicted: Where a computer
the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers
in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons.
In the days before the transistor, this may have seemed a daring prediction,
but today we are on the verge of technology that will create microprocessors
as small as a molecule.
The Internet Economy
The Internets rapid growth in popularity is unparalleled
in the history of communications. Radio existed for 38 years before
50 million tuned in; TV took 13 years to reach that benchmark. The
Internet crossed that popularity threshold within four years after
opening to the general public in 1991, and today an estimated
80 million Americans have access at home or at work.
The Internet has quickly become a significant economic force, offering
a new avenue for consumer and business-to-business transactions.
The U.S. Internet economy grew at a compounded annual
174.5 percent between 1995 and 1998, as compared with 2.8 percent
for the national economy as a whole. The Internet economy generated
revenues totaling an estimated $301 billion in 1998. Employing more
a million people, the Internet economy now rivals the automobile
industry and other major established
sectors in size. Retail sales on the Internet are also climbing
rapidly. In 1997, private analysts forecast that the value of Internet
retailing could reach $7 billion by 2000. In fact, the 1998 level
was 50 percent greater than that estimate, causing analysts to revise
their estimates upward to between $40 billion and $80 billion by
2002. Direct, business-to-business commerce on the Internet is forecast
to surpass $1.3 trillion per year by 2002.
Forecasting Severe Weather
Advance warning of this May 3, 1999 tornado, made possible by NWS
technology, enabled officials to order the safe evacuation of millions
On May 3, 1999, more than 70 tornadoes rampaged across Oklahoma
and Kansas. Several days earlier, National Weather Service (NWS)
forecasters had seen increasing indications in their computer modeling
data that the environment in their region would
support severe storms in the coming days. (NWS supercomputers continuously
feed such data to field offices around the country to help them
make twice-daily forecasts.) As the Oklahoma and Kansas storms
developed on May 3, the NWS staff was thoroughly prepared for the
intense work that lay ahead to analyze the storms and predict their
likely paths, enabling real-time forecasts. As a result, some areas
were warned of the impending fury up to 60 minutes before the arrival
of severe weather.
More than 1,000 tornadoes occur in the United States every year.
Since the early 1990s, technological progress in detecting, monitoring,
and modeling such storms has doubled average lead times for tornado
warnings, from a nationwide average of less than four minutes to
more than 11 minutes. Using the sophisticated Advanced Weather Interactive
Processing System, which is now installed at NWS forecast offices
throughout the United States, forecasters can process, display,
and integrate huge amounts of storm data much more efficiently,
adding to the speed and accuracy of warnings to emergency managers,
the media, and the public.
Ultimately, with continuing upgrades of technology and progress
in science, the NWS expects to deliver reliable warnings at least
three hours before the onset of severe weather.
Rapid Pace of Improvements
Miniaturization causes prices to spiral downward, making the technology
affordable for larger numbers of small businesses, local governments,
schools, libraries, families, and individuals. During this decade alone,
the cost of microprocessors has dropped sharply, as has the price of silicon-based
computer memory. In 1991, the cost of the processing power required to
perform a million instructions per second or MIPS, a standard performance
metric was $230. By 1997, the cost of one MIPS worth of computing
power was $3.42. As a result, todays desktop and laptop computers
pack the processing power equivalent to what would have been a supercomputer
only a few chip-generations ago. Advances also continue at the high end
of computing. State-of-the-art supercomputers can perform trillions of
operations per second. Federal research in high-performance computing
envisions machines within the next ten years that will be thousands of
times more powerful, performing a quadrillion operations per second.
Vast increases in computing power have led scientists and engineers to
tackle problems once considered beyond the limits of human study
such challenges as long-range weather forecasting, modeling thermonuclear
explosions, simulating variations in aeronautical design, and designing
new drugs. These efforts depend on improvements in computer software as
well as hardware. Mathematics holds the key to the efficient trade-offs
in processing speeds, message passing, and use of memory that make up
programming code. Recent advances in this area of science have generated
a proliferation of software for professional and everyday uses. In terms
of economic impact, the software and computer services sector has more
than doubled in size since 1990, growing to a $152 billion business by
1998 and roughly equaling the size of the computer hardware sector.
The industrialized world has integrated information technologies throughout
almost all economic sectors and social institutions. We use IT when we
listen to a weather forecast, enjoy music on a CD, or watch a movie on
DVD. The free exchange of information made possible by the Internet has
had a democratizing influence in other parts of the world, and small but
innovative entrepreneurs now have opportunities to market their ideas
on a worldwide scale that would have been impossible to imagine 20 years
Libraries With Instant Access
Digital libraries will provide all Americans with unprecedented
access to information.
A $30 million cooperative initiative of several Federal agencies
will soon provide a national library of text, images, sound recordings,
and other materials to every schoolchild (and all other Americans)
with access to
the Internet. The library will include countless numbers of books
that are in the public domain, such as the complete works of Shakespeare,
Mark Twain, the Greek philosophers, and the Federalist Papers. In
addition, children will have virtual access to such things
as the Apollo 11 command module, the Gettysburg battlefield, and
Rose Kennedys personal tour of the John F. Kennedy birthplace.
Students and their teachers will also be able to find a digital
library for math and science education as
part of the new initiative. The collection will include high-quality
resources and provide hands-on, interactive content that makes math
and science come alive and enables students to learn by doing.
Technology can help make Americas treasures available to
all citizens. It will still be a thrill to visit Ellis Island in
person, but those who cant make the trip will still have online
access to its immigration records. Poetry lovers will still want
to own a personal copy of Dantes Inferno, but every student
who needs to read it will be able to download it instantly
and never have to pay an overdue fine!