The next race for the White House is already well under way, with candidates in each party formally announcing their intention to run for the presidency on a regular basis. The issues that will dominate the political discourse as we move from the primaries to the general election have yet to be determined, although economics and economic opportunity seem to be good bets to loom large in the campaign. Of course, many interest groups will attempt to inject their key issues into the discussion about where the country is and where it should be going.
Stories by By Richard Adler
Earlier this month, in Monterey, Calif., a meeting organized by the Produce Marketing Association provided an opportunity for a group of local growers of crops such as lettuce, artichokes and strawberries to find out how the latest digital technologies were changing agriculture. Participants heard about how technologies like robots, drones and predictive analytics could help them improve their operations.
In his 2014 book, <em>The Accidental Superpower</em>, Peter Zeihan traces the origins of America's economic prosperity to its abundance of rivers. The U.S. has more miles of navigable waterways, which provide a uniquely efficient and inexpensive means for transporting goods across a continent, than the rest of the world put together. According to Zeihan, this difference was a critical factor in the country's emergence as the world's leading superpower. And because rivers do not require large-scale efforts to build and operate, they favor decentralized development, which has encouraged local entrepreneurs, who represent a distinctive aspect of the U.S. economy. The U.S. is also blessed with many natural harbors that are another major contributor to a country's economic success.
The last time that Congress enacted major telecommunications regulation reform, in 1996, the state of technology was very different than it is today: Fewer than 15% of Americans had a mobile phone, under one-third of U.S. households were online, and virtually all of those that were online had only slow, dial-up connections. Amazon.com and eBay were small startups (both were launched in 1995), and Mark Zuckerberg was still living at home with his parents, preparing for his bar mitzvah.
Back in the 1970s, at the time of the first "oil shock," when gas prices spiked, researchers at the Institute for the Future conducted a study of what was then being (optimistically) called the "telecommunications/transportation tradeoff." The hope was that virtual meetings could take the place of the real thing, thereby saving money as people substituted electronic media for physical travel. However, the study concluded that there was no tradeoff. In fact, the opposite was true: The more people communicated with others, the <em>more</em> they wanted to travel to meet in person.
Cities are unique among man-made institutions in being essentially immortal. A number of cities in Northern Africa and Western Asia are least 5,000 years old, and Jericho, in the West Bank, is believed to have been continuously inhabited since 10,000 BC.
Imagine that almost every household had an inexpensive, easy-to-use, handheld gadget capable of automatically measuring key vital signs (blood pressure, blood oxygen level, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature) as well as accurately diagnosing more than a dozen serious illnesses (including anemia, diabetes, hepatitis A, pneumonia, tuberculosis and stroke). This device would also be able to instantly share the information it collects with professional caregivers when appropriate.
Human beings tend to take incremental change in stride. For example, the loaf of bread that was 50 cents a few decades ago that now costs $3 isn't a big deal to us because the price rose gradually and steadily year by year. What we aren't adapted for is exponential change. Which explains why we tend to be taken by surprise by developments that involve digital technologies, where order-of-magnitude improvements, driven by Moore's Law, occur continuously.
In <em>Snow Crash</em>, a science fiction novel published in 1992, Neal Stephenson envisioned a future in which people lived in a bleak, grim physical world, but it was possible for them to "jack in" through a computer network to the Metaverse, a virtual cyberworld that was much more dramatic and glamorous than the "real" world.
America's schools have gotten wired. Virtually every school and library in the U.S. is now online, thanks in part to the federal E-Rate program, which has been providing subsidies for Internet connections since 1997.