In 1969 academics from the University of California in Los Angeles setup a simple computer network to send data back and forth to Stanford University. This was the beginning of the original Internet. For over 20 years this network grew and became increasingly complex as scientists began using it as a test bed for developing their research. In the early 1990s this highly refined network went commercial and the Internet was born. Eventually scientists needed a new network to utilize as it became impractical to conduct research on the commercialized Internet. Thus Internet2 was formed.
The term “Internet2” is probably unfamiliar to you unless you’re the average computer geek. But in time its effects will transform all aspects of our society: the education of our youth, the quality of our health care, how we watch movies, and everything in between.
Internet2 is a not-for-profit consortium lead by over 200 US Universities working in partnership with various industries to develop new networking technologies. While that sounds interesting, you may ask what they’re doing that warrants your attention. And I’ll tell you: Internet2 is developing the technology that will enable the next information revolution and it’s doing so with incredible speed.
Internet2 is organized into many initiatives which serve to further education, arts and humanities, health sciences, network security and much more. “K20,” the education initiative, made international headlines when it provided the backbone for the United Nation’s first “serious” video game, Food Force (http://www.foodforce.com), which teaches children about world hunger and boasts over a million players. In the Gemini observatory on top of Hawaii’s highest mountain, Mauna Kea, researchers use Internet2 technology to process massive telescope data. The New World Symphony trains the most gifted graduates of distinguished music programs by offering its young musicians real-time coaching and mentoring from artists and musicians around the country. Their curriculum is dependent upon video and crystal clear CD audio streamed through an Internet2 network.
In 1999 Internet2 created the Abilene network which is capable of transferring information at incredible speeds and was used for the fastest recorded land data transfer. More than 800 MB (the size of a CD) was sent 10,000 miles from Geneva to Pasadena in one second. You can literally download an entire DVD’s worth of video in a mere 5 seconds. Very impressive in comparison with the 186 hours that same feat would take over a 56 K modem, or the two hours a “fast” broadband connection would require.
So when will this technology reach you? Sooner then you think. Private corporations like the Motion Picture Association of America are working with Internet2 and will shortly be introducing its technology to the consumer market. “We’ve been working with Internet2 for a while to explore ways we can take advantage of delivering content at these extremely high speeds, and basically manage illegitimate content distribution at the same time,” said Chris Russell, the MPAA’s vice president of Internet standards and technology. “Those would go hand in hand.”
On the other side of the commercial potential of Internet2, there is the danger of its abuse. Specifically, this may occur through the illegal sharing of copyrighted material. File sharing programs allow users to trade files directly and are already extremely popular among university students connected to these lightning fast networks. This type of abuse transpired recently in August of 2005 when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed separate lawsuits against college students who were allegedly using file sharing programs to trade illegal content on an Internet2 network.
Internet2 technologies are also taking medicine to new heights. In it’s creation of a Virtual Collaborative Clinic, which connects medical facilities around the US, NASA utilized an Internet2 network. This allowed them to manipulate high resolution MRI scans and other medical instruments in stunning three dimensional displays that enabled doctors to simulate surgery.
Just as modern computers come with the technology to connect to the original Internet, look for future devices such as cell phones, automobiles, and even refrigerators to be automatically configured for new high speed networks. Internet2 technologies are facilitating everything from movies on demand and tele-medicine, to remote access to scientific instruments. Internet2 may not available to the average consumer as of yet, but the technologies it’s pioneering are already revolutionizing our world, creating the infrastructure for the next commercial Internet.