The Internet is central to the new global economy and, along with other technologies, can lead to currently untapped creativity and innovation, US Vice President Al Gore said this week.
"By far the most valuable resource or asset that any nation has is the unused brain power of men and women of that nation," said Gore, speaking at the first National Innovation Summit held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The two-day summit was sponsored by the Council on Competitiveness, which consists of academic, industry, business and government representatives.
The nation needs a "new innovation policy" as the world moves into an Internet-dominated era where "we zap dollars and data around the world at the speed of light," Gore said.
The Internet and electronic commerce have to remain unregulated and free of taxes, "so that every computer can be a window to every business everywhere in the world," Gore said, emphasising the policy of US President Bill Clinton's administration.
To keep the world focused on just how connected and dependent upon each other we are in a global economy, Gore proposed that the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launch a micro satellite that will provide live images of Earth via the Internet. Called Triana, the satellite would be launched within the next two years, under Gore's proposal.
The satellite images would allow scientists to continuously study weather patterns and could lead to breakthroughs in understanding phenomena such as El Nino, a disruption of the tropical Pacific caused when trade winds diminish. El Nino causes heavy rains in the southern tier of the US and Peru and drought in the west Pacific, as well as weather disruptions elsewhere in the globe. The current El Nino, which started last year, has wreaked havoc on Southern California and Florida, in particular, in the US
Although scientists have in recent years gained more understanding of El Nino, the phenomenon remains mysterious in many ways. Triana also would enable scientists to monitor hurricanes and oil field and forest fires.
The only photographs of the entire globe came from the Apollo moon missions and a brief image as the Galileo probe sped away from Earth. Gore has in his office the famous Earth photograph -- the single most duplicated image in history -- taken on the Apollo 17 mission and he referred to that image throughout his speech, which lasted nearly an hour.
Seeing that image of the Earth changed the way people think because it clearly showed that the planet is smaller in the universal scheme than might be imagined without that groundbreaking photograph, Gore said. Since then, the world has been further linked by the Internet and technologies, he noted.
The US economy is now dependent upon IT, which accounts for one-third of the nation's gross domestic product growth, said Gore, who spent yesterday meeting with Silicon Valley executives and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Gore, whose high-tech savvy and Internet use are well-known and documented, meets monthly with Silicon Valley executives.
The vice president predicted that the anticipated productivity gains from widespread use of computers in business and industry will occur. Historically, major advances in technology have not quickly led to more productivity for a simple reason -- business and industry are not yet ready. When the electric motor was invented, factories for years afterward continued to be run with steam engines and only after those factories were replaced, did productivity rise, he said.
"Look at the Internet," Gore said by way of a more recent example. "When we started providing seed money in the Congress 20 years ago for what we now know as the Internet, there was no enthusiasm for it among business."
Back then, business leaders could not see an application for the Internet. When US President Bill Clinton was elected just over five years ago, there were only 50 sites on the World Wide Web, Gore noted, adding that in a short period the number has grown to millions.
The Internet and technology are fostering continued dramatic jumps in knowledge, he said, noting that soon it will be possible to make a cellular telephone call from anywhere to anywhere on the planet and "within a couple of years microchips will routinely contain 1 billion transistors" and be as "complex as the road map of the entire planet."