State officials have a vision for an information era, an electronic golden age, and they think it's coming soon to a computer terminal near you.
It's a time when high school seniors in the most remote schools can take junior-college level courses, using interactive video, graphics and voice communications. When businessmen can order supplies by computer. It's an era when a great deal of commerce is done at home or by car phone.It's a time when microchips installed in every household appliance will be able to report the condition of the appliance to the repairman - by way of the same fiber-optic network that will pour information and jobs and shopping lists into the home.
LaVarr G. Webb, Gov. Mike Leavitt's deputy for policy, outlined the vision Tuesday during a conference at University Park Hotel, located in the University of Utah's Research Park. The conference, "Business Opportunities on the Information Superhighway," was sponsored by the U.'s Business Alumni Association and the David Eccles School of Business.
Webb said computer networks that will bring these changes are already stretching throughout the state.
In Webb's opinion, business opportunities will blossom because of the new computer technology. But the changes will be profound in many areas besides business, he believes. Computers are impacting every aspect of commerce, education, government and recreation.
"We really believe in the governor's office that the societal changes that will occur . . . will be as great as the changes as a result of the industrial revolution."
The industrial revolution, a shift in lifestyle that was driven by technological innovations like steam power and mass production, profoundly altered society.
Now computer technology is overthrowing the industrial setup established by that revolution, Webb said. Many industries like communications are "being overcome, overpowered, by the computer industry," he said.
Webb said the changes are facilitated by three remarkable facts: As computers become more powerful they are also more affordable. As more computers tie into network, their value increases exponentially. And the cost of bandwidth - or the capacity to transmit data - is decreasing.
Using computer networks like the one state government has established, an office worker can create a customized electronic mail list. "With the touch of a button, you can send e-mail or files to 10 people or 100 people or 1,000 people, immediately."
A college student could acquire an e-mail address as soon as he registers. Then sitting at a terminal in his dorm, he can tie in to his school's network and register for classes by typing at the keyboard.
He can use his e-mail address to connect with the Internet, a worldwide network of academic and commercial interests, and research data files across the globe.
Meanwhile, business people can use computers to check the availability of supplies and order them. Another link would allow a person to check on his elderly mother in another state, face to face by video, without leaving home.
Leavitt thinks that helping the technology is one of the most important things the state can focus on, he said. It promises to make government more efficient and to improve education.
Government and education are developing the new data and video networks that are expanding throughout the state. Eventually, businesses will hook into the networks too, he believes.