Film sparked flight of fancy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 1994, 12:00am

I HAVE been experiencing many flights of fancy since I saw Clear and Present Danger last week.

Putting aside the movie's obvious American propaganda and drape-yourself-in-the-flag message, and not wanting to give away the story for those who intend to spend $50 to see it, I have to say some of the technology in the film has made me think of where our on-line technologies might be headed.

An example is of a laser-guided missile with a camera near its nose which sends, via wireless airwaves, full-colour, full-frame, 30 frames-per-second video images from South America of its approach via a satellite to someone sitting in CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

This wasn't the flickering, black-and-white images which made headlines during Operation Dessert Storm a few years back. And this has made me think.

After all, if the human mind can conceive of the type of wireless bandwidth needed to achieve this, the day may not be far off when worldwide networking has the kind of bandwidth to do this.

That will make impressive waves through the world of networking, changing the way people think of networking and communications.

Sure, it isn't surprising to think of the bandwidth to send these types of images. Television companies do it every day.

What is interesting here is the capability of an object moving at hundreds of kilometres per hour being able to beam a signal across some type of wireless network to a ground station that can then send it up to satellite.

If we could develop and implement pervasive, high bandwidth wireless technologies which could do this as cost effectively as today's wireless cellular phone networks, then the day will be upon us when the information suburban street graduates into highwaydom.

Let us look at this objectively. The much-politicised information superhighway concept is supposed to bring together all types of data and services, including text, sound, images and video and make them accessible by most people across a network like the Internet.

Right now, though, even with the WWW and great browsers like Mosaic, working interactively in real-time with much of this information is tedious at best.

Sure, you can access video clips with Mosaic, but you have to wait, drumming your fingers, while the clip comes across a narrow pipe into your machine before you can play it. It's the same with still images.

For the information superhighway to become the type of interactive tool people expect it to be, we will need the kind of bandwidth displayed in Clear and Present Danger so that people can watch video coming across the network into their machines in real-time.

Then, truly, people could find information and immediately take advantage of it as it comes into their computers.

This all begs a major question: should the network backbones for the information superhighway be privately or publicly controlled? When the Internet first began the backbones were implemented using money from the US Government. Now, though, the government is talking about moving this into private hands.

So, will the private companies be more effective than the government at implementing and developing super high bandwidth backbones? It's hard to say. After all, when many companies talk about this kind of bandwidth they are talking in terms of hundreds of television stations rather than a super-wide open-access pathway.

Governments, on the other hand, are unlikely to be able to justify to their electorates the massive monetary investment needed to create this kind of networking power, even with the hype they have created about the information superhighway.

So, where does it leave today's Net user? Drumming their fingers as they wait for the latest Bart Simpson clip to crawl across the wires. Sigh.

Maybe I shouldn't go to the movies anymore.