Inventing the Future: digital convergence happens

Croquet is “about” real-time collaboration. A bunch of people can be in the same virtual environment and see the live effects of each other moving around and manipulating things. It seems natural to add audio chat using existing Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. So now you can talk to folks in the same space while you work together. We’re working on Webcam video, too, so that it’s generally suitable for holding distance meetings in a Croquet place. I didn’t think much about displacing land-line telephones. Who cares.

We thought a bit about how you could connect the telephone system so that you could call in to a Croquet place and join a meeting (audio only?) from a cell phone.

But then I read this quote from Patrick Scaglia, Vice-President and Director of the Internet and Computing Platforms Research Center at HP Lab:

“Croquet is a first in many ways. It represents a major step in our vision of computation as a communications platform and service, available anytime, anywhere, from any device. Soon, Croquet will run on everything, from a PDA through a set-top box; persistent Croquet worlds will be ubiquitous on the Internet, routed intelligently to each user through computational services overlays like PlanetLab. This will change the way people think about software and computation, from today’s device-oriented perspective to a perspective of computation as a persistent, pervasive, service”.

It took a day to sink in.

Eventually, people will want and get always-on connectivity for mobile devices, just as over half of American Internet users now get for fixed-position access. After demand evens out, I think device costs are first-order proportional to the number of chips, with the complexity of chips being a second-order effect. So the cost of a PDA capable of running Croquet will someday not be inherently much more expensive then a cell phone such as is now being given away by providers.

So, will we have telephones? Of any kind?

As far as I know, the Croquet developers didn’t set out to replace the telephone. If I had, my wife would have threatened divorce for such a hair-brained idea. And I’m not predicting that Croquet will displace the telephone. But it is interesting that progress in solving an abstract and general problem
mightlead to the merging of computers and telephones.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.

One Comment

  1. I don’t know enough about Croquet to know where it will fit into things, but yes, the world is going to a web-centric model, in which computation and storage and bandwidth are services to be hired out.

    This is why Google is a good bet to emerge as the new microsoft. Not because they have a search engine and a mail tool, but because they have a giant goddamn humongo computer that they rent out for services. They’re geared up for a Croquetish world.

    As is, I hope, Laszlo.

    Harold’s story about the Philadelphi Muni WiFi relates to this trend.

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