This series of articles about Fiber Optics is taken from George Gilder’s book, “Telecosm.” I first read “Telecosm” five years ago in 2000 when it was first published. George had already written “Life After Television,” “Microcosm,” “The Spirit of Enterprise,” “Wealth and Poverty,” and “Men & Marriage,” prior to “Telecosm,” and he was riding a wave of several successful stock predictions. George was hailed as one of the great technological visionaries, and as the man who put the “S” in Telecosm, he understood the basics of complex technologies and he put it altogether in a soaring view of how things change. His record of futurist predictions was one of the best, often proving to be right even when initially opposed by mighty corporations and governments. George’s list of favored technology stocks outpaced even the soaring NASDAQ in 1999 by more than double.
My mother always said, “Pride comes just before the fall…”and Mark Twain said, “We should never make predictions, especially about the future.” It’s not fair of me to look at something in 20/20 hindsight, but needless to say shortly after “Telecosm” was published, technology stocks crashed and if a person had invested $10,000 in George’s favorite technology stocks in the year 2000 their portfolio in 2005 would be worth about what it takes to buy a good cup of coffee. However, most of the other information in George’s “Telecosm” book was indeed correct: Contemplate the road ahead. Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steven Jobs of Apple, Gordon Moore and Andrew Grove of Intel are still very much around, they beam from magazine covers, orate and publish books. Their totems tower over their time such as Bill Gate’s Windows 2000, the Millennial operating system launched with 30 million lines of code and a record-setting two hundred thousand bugs. These Rushmore men, quick or dead, no longer shape the future. The trajectories of their companies are set in concrete source code, the DNA of an epoch that is over. The action is elsewhere; the action is in fiber optics.
Of course, the computer and the microchip remain enormously potent technologies, but so do smokestack industries and nuclear power plants. Gordon Moore’s law, which dictates a doubling of computer power, or a halving of its cost every 18 months, is still in force. The process of ingraining intelligence into every aspect of our lives, minds, machine tools, toys and etc, is continuing at an accelerated pace. The displacement of matter by mind in the economy is already the most powerful economic event in recorded history—is just now transpiring into economic data—and has not yet begun to end.
The computer era is falling before the one technological force that could surpass in impact the computer’s ability to process and create information. That is communication, which is more essential to our humanity than computing is. Communication is the way we weave together a personality, a family, a business, a nation, and a world. The Telecosm—the world enabled and defined by new communications technology such as fiber optics—will make human communication universal, instantaneous, unlimited in capacity and at the margins free. In industry the word most commonly used for communications is bandwidth.
The great frustration of the computer era has been the difficulty of communicating the information that has become our most precious resource. Information is power, but information that cannot be readily moved is gridlock on the “World Wide Wait.”
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