Copyright (c) 1994,1995 Michael Brundage. All rights reserved.

Current Trends in Technology

For additional background, I recommend the excellent background material compiled by the MSRI staff on their FMC page.

How big is the Internet, anyway? That's a good question - it's growing so fast that nearly every statistic (the one above was in June, 94; the Internet Index is also quite interesting) is outdated by the time it comes out. Andrew Odlyzko (Bell Labs) says that each month on the Internet, backbone traffic amounts to approximately 15 gigabytes (GB) of information per month. That's fifteen thousand million bytes of information (compared to hist estimate of 50,000 mathematics papers published each year, which at about 50K per paper amounts to a mere 2.5 GB per year).

These days, talk about internet growth is actually split into two separate statistics. The internet itself is doubling about every 8 months (according to Van Jacobsen, LBL), but the MBone is growing twice that fast. According to Jeff MacKie-Mason (economist at the University of Michigan), the internet had


July, 1993

July, 1994







1.78 million

3.2 million





As you can see, this is explosive growth. World Wide Web traffic on NSFNET has been increasing about 41% monthly (compound growth rate), while NSFNET traffic on the whole is increasing about 6% monthly (doubling once per year).

I still remember my first exposure to the Net (directly, at least): In 1990 I became a freshman at Caltech, and learned how to use email, USENET, and eventually became addicted to MUDs. After wasting a few years playing around, I finally came to my senses, but only in the past year or so have I realized the potentials for use (or abuse) of the Net. (You'll notice I avoid calling it the ``information superhighway'' or the ``Infobahn'' or other such terms, because I think those are very poor analogies).

What uses are currently possible? Of course there are the simple email, USENET, gopher, ftp, WAIS, telnet, and local software uses which we are hopefully all familiar with. In the not so distant past the World Wide Web (Mosaic, lynx, Netscape, etc.) was introduced, and has really fundamentally transformed the way in which we view and present information through the networks. Now new software (e.g., HyperG, WebRunner) has been developed, and other document formats (such as Adobe PDF or HyperTeX) have been introduced. As the MBone gains popularity, it will surely be put to more extensive uses. Currently Space Shuttle missions, scientific experiments, and conferences are regularly broadcast through the MBone for anyone (who is connected) to watch. Various research projects such as the Jupiter project at Xerox/PARC are working to bring collaborative environments to fruition.

There are also some rather obvious limitations. Although most of the presenters at the conference seemed quite confident that any department could find the money to obtain access to all these resources, I remain skeptical (for example, our own department doesn't yet have even an http daemon to support WWW requests; even universities like Caltech that serve as network hubs don't have MBone connections for general users). Moreover, much of the technology remains the realm of the well-educated or well-off; as a result, minorities are severely underrepresented in cyberspace. There are other less social and more technical problems as well; in particular, the variety of architectures and operating systems makes a distributed environment more difficult to implement and maintain.

Because the internet growth is so explosive right now, everything is very chaotic. Many count this anarchical structure a disadvantage; I do not. However, one disturbing aspect of the disorganization is that while many groups are working furiously on the new technology, what trickles down to the rest of the world does so maddeningly slowly. As I have mentioned, we don't even have our own web server up and running yet, while some institutions have already progressed on to the ``next-generation'' multimedia software.

Keep reading - this is only the briefest of overviews!

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