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TECHNOLOGY EXPLOSION IS POSITIVE, WRITER SAYS

Imagine a high-tech world in which televisions have been replaced by computers, telephones are portable personal computers more powerful than any home computer today and information from around the world is available at the touch of a finger - at about a penny a minute from your mobile phone.

Imagine it all happening within the next five years at the most."There is a technology revolution," said George Gilder, an author and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. "And the effects are almost entirely positive. The real threat is that people will underestimate its benefits and exaggerate the growing pains."

Gilder's comments came Thursday during the opening day of the Governor's Conference on Economic Development and Tourism at Snowbird, where hundreds of state and local officials and businesspeople from around Utah were barraged with facts and figures and strategies about the information highway.

Actually, the information highway was likened more to an express train. And Utahns were told if they aren't going to get on the train early, they should probably get off the tracks.

Information technology experts nonetheless praised Utah's broad-based initiative to create a suitable business and educational environment for massive growth in the technology arena. "Utahns are early adapters," said Richard McCormick, chief executive officer of US WEST.

Added Gilder, "God didn't die. He moved to Utah where he smiled on Mormons and high technology . . . It is a golden age for Utah."

It is also a global age in which Utah is no longer competing against Colorado or California or Arizona. It is competing head-up against Hong Kong and Poland and scores of other countries seeking to enter the global marketplace.

For the first time, computers outsold television sets last year. Consider you now receive better picture quality on your computer monitor than on the highest-resolution TV.

Consider that the prototypes for a new generation of home computers has already been developed with hard-disk space of 9,000 megabytes of memory (actually, that's 9 gigabytes to the computer-literate).

The technology revolution "will change virtually everything we do . . . an explosive impact on education, medicine, commerce and retail," said John Malone, president and chief executive officer of Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI). "It's all about an explosion of choice and opportunity."

And it's about a wider array of goods and services being made available to more people. "It brings what was available only to the rich and now makes it available to all," Gilder said.

This is happening, Gilder said, because of the "law of the microcosm" in which technology is being developed at a breathtaking pace - doubling exponentially every 18 months. By the turn of the century, it will be possible for one silicon sliver to contain 1 billion transitors - the equivalent of 16 Cray Super-computers that now cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The cost of the chip? A few dollars.

That kind of development makes the world of information technology all of a sudden available to Third World countries. And information is wealth. Already, "the incomes of Third World countries are exploding," Gilder said.

But Malone and McCormick caution there is a dark cloud on the otherwise rosy horizon, the cloud of federal regulation. They noted that the technology revolution is exploding in the world of computers, which is not regulated by the government. And it is crawling at a turtle's pace in the telephone and television arenas, which are both heavily regulated.

The companies are involved in a joint partnership to develop cutting-edge, multimedia services. The problem is, the partnership is in Great Britain. "We do it there because we can, because their government allows it," McCormick said.

In the United States, individual states often have more communications regulators than the entire United Kingdom. There are 2,000 members of the Federal Communications Bar in Washington.

"We are very concerned that government is increasing its regulatory involvement at the same time it is preaching deregulation," Malone said. "Let the free market prevail. The regulatory distortions are more severe than any monopoly distortions."

However, Congress has steadfastly refused to allow cooperative ventures among the communications giants. And, Malone and McCormick, said, they fail to understand the very technology they are regulating.